The world has been through a traumatic few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that we have dealt with almost everything in our lives.
In terms of commercial property, the working from home rules have meant that the road has been rocky. As businesses operated as much as possible online and employees working via online conferencing, there was a proportion of people who were thinking that this would be the end for offices and other commercial premises.
What we are seeing, however, is a significant bounce-back from many businesses. Employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of having some (if not all) of their staff in their offices, and employees are also seeing the benefits of going into the office at least for a proportion of the week.
This is resulting in a gradual return of employees back into their commercial properties and signs of things beginning to go back to how they were before the pandemic hit. What we are noticing, however, is that businesses are needing to adapt their commercial premises to make them more attractive for employees to work from and make them a preferable alternative to working from home – in addition to the productive bonuses.
If you speak to anybody working in the recruitment of office staff, the buzzword at the moment is “hybrid”. The hybrid approach to working is where there is a mixture of working from home and working in the office. In other words, employees (and employers) are seeing the merits of both approaches, and now have the technology and experience to enable this to happen.
Of course, it is difficult to generalise when it comes to employee’s preferences. Everybody has different experiences of working in offices and from home. For some people, the peace and quiet is beneficial and has made them more productive, they have cherished having more time with their families, and valued the lack of commute. For others, however, they have missed the social interaction, found more distractions at home than in their office, and suffer from what’s commonly known as ‘Zoom fatigue’.
The hybrid working approach involves allowing remote working alongside office working. It allows employees to benefit from the combination of the positives of working from home with those working in a rented office space.
Coming hand in hand with the return of employees to the office, we are seeing employers understand the need to make their workspaces more appealing to their employees. No longer is it a normal expectation for employees to automatically be in the offices, so employers are increasingly needed to make their office spaces and commercial units somewhere that their staff want to be and can work well.
One of the most important factors that need to be taken into consideration is that the workplace must be COVID-safe. COVID is, after all, the reason why most people were staying at home in the first place. Staff must feel safe when they are at work, this means for most businesses that they are trying to implement measures such as social distancing where they can, thorough cleaning of the commercial premises, and encouraging testing and vaccinations.
The merits of having extra space are obvious – especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The British Council for Offices (BCO) are especially concerned about this and are looking to increase their recommendations for the amount of space per person upwards from the 8m²-10m² to a larger space per person.
One of the biggest factors in going into the office to work as opposed to working from home is the opportunity for collaboration. It is usually far easier to do this face to face, rather than virtually or over the telephone. Collaboration is especially important for those who work in marketing and creative industries, or for those who are training. For many businesses, employers are, therefore, looking to make their workspaces easier for collaborative working.
This could include having different spaces for working in different environments, where employees can work together and communicate in a meaningful manner.
Ensuring employee well-being is another aspect that has become more important in the workspace recently. Of course, well-being links in with ensuring that employees are safe in terms of COVID-19 and feel comfortable in their environments. However, there is more involved than this. Employee well-being can include factors such as offering mental health support and building a team state of mind but also include factors such as having a building with high levels of natural light, plenty of green plants, at the right temperature and humidity.
Employers should also consider incorporating company branding, building awareness of company values, making employees feel that they work somewhere with beliefs that align with their own, breakout rooms, and communal spaces for staff interaction. They should also consider facilitating healthy lifestyles such as providing space for bicycles and showers and changing areas for employees.
Talk to Employees
There will almost certainly be a degree of resistance from certain employers to going back into work – even if the majority may be pleased about it. One of the most effective ways that employers can help them to feel more comfortable about returning – whilst making the office more appealing to everyone – whether it is on a short-term or long-term basis – is to find out about what concerns them. From this, employers can make the changes that are needed to make the workplace as appealing and attractive as possible to employees.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was predicted that people would be either working from home forever – or that it would take a long time for people to want to go back into the office What we are seeing, however, is that these predictions were wrong. We are seeing the human and the commercial benefits to going back into office workspaces for both employers and employees, often in a hybrid approach.
This bounce-back is coming much quicker than anyone imagined, and this is also partly related to the fact that employers are conscious about ensuring that their commercial property is more appealing to their staff.