The office, disrupted

Published on
3 min read

In a matter of weeks, the majority of UK offices relocated to homes across the country and a stray child gate-crashing a conference call is no longer newsworthy. In the midst of the current uncertainty, one thing we can be certain of when lockdown eventually eases, is genuine change in how offices operate.

PropTech’s role

The practicalities of social distancing within the office create a challenge which must be met to facilitate business continuity and ultimately to keep workers safe. As people will be wary of returning to their workplaces, enhancing trust in the built environment will be significant and technology has the potential to offer practical solutions.

Smart sensors to provide alerts if social distancing rules are breached and contactless building entry are feasible options. A number of London real estate companies have adopted smart visitor management systems, which integrate hands-free access with existing access control systems. Technology controlling the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning of buildings is likely to be paramount given the airborne transmission of the present virus. The use of UV lights to routinely disinfect surfaces could be explored. Workplaces will have to offer something which the ‘working from home’ environment cannot provide in order to entice workers back into the office.

Long-term impact

In light of lockdown, flexible working is expected to become a more accepted work practice. This could see fewer employees in the office at the one time resulting in reduced office portfolios. Smaller tenants may choose not to renew their leases if they have demonstrated that they can work just as effectively remotely. Landlord clients will need to understand how occupiers are using space in order to re-optimise their offices going forward, for which sensor technology could play a part.

Office desks have been shrinking over time. However, this is likely to be reversed to accord with social distancing with density in commercial real estate generally reducing. Legislation could be introduced to mandate a minimum area of space required per person or reduced total occupancy levels in buildings. This could pose the biggest challenge yet for the flexible workspace sector which is characterised by its densely packed shared areas and social dynamic. Could we see a move away from an open-plan format to cubicles and self-contained offices once more?

The new ‘normal’

COVID-19 has enforced the biggest ‘working from home’ experiment which has given many cause to rethink how and where we work and address underlying trends borne out of those questions. What is to be seen is whether the future office will be a part of workers’ daily lives or whether it will become a place solely for activities better conducted in person. Whilst some businesses may not return to the office at all, for many the future office could be re-positioned as a space to facilitate collaboration and interaction safely and provide access to technology and IT infrastructure not available in the home.

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