It is no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in almost every way possible. But in the world of work, there were drastic changes made – and drastic changes that were to have a knock-on effect on the rest of society.
One of the biggest changes that we saw was the mandate from the government to work from home where possible. This led to the desertion of swathes of commercial property around the country, and a massive reliance on technology for employees to carry out their everyday duties.
As things begin to improve and we head out of the restrictions that the pandemic bought on us, we can start to look at the changes that have happened and which ones look like they are going to have a long-lasting impact on the workplace and commercial property.
Physical Attendance in the Workplace
One of the biggest changes that was predicted over the pandemic was the increase in the number of people working from home. It was feared that once employees stopped going into their offices and armed themselves with the technology necessary to carry out most of their work remotely from the office, they would never go back.
In contrast to this, here at Boxpod, we have noticed that people are valuing their time in their office. Some people are opting for a hybrid approach, mixing working from home and in the office, but very few are abandoning going into their workplaces altogether.
This is due to several reasons:
There are some professions where collaborative working is necessary – or preferred. It may be that it is better for creativity, or perhaps working in multidisciplinary teams. Collaborative work is meaning that some workplaces are choosing to adapt their spaces to facilitate these activities.
Some employees (especially younger people, apprentices, or those who have changed careers) find being able to shadow or work with more experienced colleagues extremely beneficial. This is impossible to do if you are working on your own from a remote location.
Many employees missed the social interaction of working in a shared workplace. Whether it is networking, chatting over the water cooler, or going out for drinks after work, this is also an important aspect of working for many people. Having a social life outside of the life that they have with their family – or, indeed, themselves if they live alone is essential for some.
Demand for High-Quality Buildings
Another impact that we are seeing of the pandemic is a higher demand for better quality workspaces. The general public has spent the last couple of years pondering what is important to them, the state of the world, and what they want out of a workplace.
As a consequence of this, we are seeing a higher demand for good quality workplaces. In these cases, ‘good quality’ refers to workplaces that promote good health and well-being, productivity, and green credentials, as well as the right location for them. In other words, we are all becoming fussier about the building that we are working in.
The commercial properties that are doing the best and are in highest demand are the ones that are:
- Providing excellent amenities such as showers, gyms, breakout rooms, and relaxation spaces.
- Providing benefits such as electric car charging.
- Being well-connected in terms of public transport and national access (depending on the nature of the business).
- Having excellent lighting, ventilation, and space.
- Having a high level of green credentials.
- Have the ability to incorporate the Internet of Things and other technological workplace advancements.
- Other niche factors more specifically related to the business or industry – an abundance of places for networking, connectivity to ports, or provision of high speed, reliable internet, for example.
Hub and Spoke Model and Hybrid Working
One of the biggest changes that we are seeing in commercial property is the emergence of the hub and spoke model of working. This is particularly effective for companies whose employees look to take the hybrid approach to work (working some of the time from the office, and some of the time remotely).
One thing that many employees enjoyed over the lockdown when they were working from home, was the reduction in time commuting. This is leading to many bigger companies changing to a ‘hub and spoke’ model, whereby they have a central ‘head office’, supported by smaller ‘hub’ offices that are situated more locally for their employees.
This means that employees spend less time commuting whilst still getting the benefits of going into the workplace – that they had missed when they were working from home.
Rise on Technology
The pandemic forced us all to embrace technology to some extent. Whether it is video conferencing or air filtering technology, it is actually quite difficult to remember life before the pandemic. Although many of us suffered greatly from the ‘Zoom fatigue’ phenomenon, it is difficult for many of us to imagine life without video conferencing now.
It is likely that many of the technological advances that we experienced over the pandemic will be kept. International video conferencing, for example, can be much more cost-effective (and less damaging to the environment) than physically travelling between places. We will, therefore, expect to see a much greater emphasis placed on ensuring that commercial property is adequate and equipped for this technology now and in the future.
With greater use of technology, cloud, and internet-based innovations in the workplace, we will also need to see a greater emphasis on cyber-security and protection of business’s digital assets in the workplace.
With a higher number of employees going back into the office at least part-time, we are also likely to see this having a wider impact on society. City centres and retail units are likely to get busier. Likewise, if smaller towns are hosting hub offices, they are also likely to get more footfall. We are likely to see a rise in cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as shops.
The trend for buying goods online is also unlikely to decline, meaning that we will still be seeing a rise in demand for warehouse space.
The evidence that we are seeing as we head out of the pandemic suggests that fears of an exodus from workplaces to wfh were unfounded. In fact, we have seen that people have been weighing their priorities up and choosing to incorporate the benefits from wfh into the more traditional work routine that they enjoyed before, meaning that the commercial property market is looking buoyant and healthy.