Covid-19 has challenged us all, and we will be feeling the consequence of it in one form or another for years to come. The workplace has changed forever. But in the long term, is this a bad thing? What’s next for workspaces?
In our industry, flexible working arrangements have been the norm for some time. If you are tied to a computer, you do not necessarily need to be tied to a desk - or at least not the one situated in a central business district.
While digital technologists have known this for some time, the rest of the workforce is waking up to this too. And companies, of all sizes, are now considering what should be the new normal.
Even a city like Brisbane, Australia, where we are based, where Covid-19 levels have been mercifully low, due to government stipulated restrictions it is almost impossible for large companies to return to work as before.
If you’re lucky enough to be on the first few floors of a building with enough space to allow for social distancing, then things may not be too different. But many companies are situated high up above the city centre streets and simply getting people to and from their floors in elevators, if social distancing is observed, is nigh on impossible without staggering the times and days in which workers can use the elevators.
As a consequence of these logistics, and the simple fact that (as indicated in recent surveys) most people don’t actually want to return to the five day workplace, larger companies are now examining their leases and in some cases letting some of their space go. It’s not a great time for traditional commercial real estate agents serving that sector, unless they are willing to adapt.
At the moment, there’s a trend for home based work, supplemented by the occasional visit to the office for a team briefing or catch up. The lack of face-to-face contact is counteracted by Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype or other communication channels.
The technology to support such a move is in place, reliable and highly effective.
Of course, working from home won’t suit all desk-based workers - as the parent or guardian of any small child will attest to.
Or for younger workers, perhaps living in a share house, the last thing you need when on a call to a client is your stoner housemate Wavey Davey waddling around in the background.
And for others - well, they simply need that physical face-to-face time as opposed to FaceTime.
The opportunity to find a happy equilibrium is there.
The ability to break away occasionally from home working - whether it is working from a flexi-space on the periphery of the city, or as some companies are trying, booking out conference rooms for teams to congregate from time to time - paves the way to a new category of adaptable and flexible commercial real estate.
The pandemic and the subsequent economic fall out will foster creativity and innovation, and we increasingly think that commercial real estate, in its most traditional form, is due for major technological disruption.