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Reassessing Your Office Footprint for Post-COVID Working

Reassessing Your Office Footprint for Post-COVID Working
03 December 2020
 

Emma Long from BizSpace shares her top tips for reassessing your office space commitments. 

Emma Long is the Managing Director (North) of BizSpace, a provider of regional flexible workspace.

Long holds full profit and loss responsibility and oversees all sales and operations across the northern portfolio, encompassing locations across the North West, Yorkshire, North East and Scotland. She is passionate about people and maintaining BizSpace's values, unique culture and quality across each and every site.

She also has over 20 years' experience working for large multi-site organisations including Bruntwood, Dunlop Heywood and DHL. She joined BizSpace in 2003, becoming Operations Director in 2006 and Commercial Director in 2016, before taking on the role of Managing Director in 2020. She is an Aspire Foundation Mentor and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Fellow.

 

2021’s Office Return

 

With a number of promising vaccines on the horizon, many businesses are understandably thinking about what a return to the office could look like in 2021. But with social distancing, newfound preferences for flexible working and the continued challenges of employees’ anxiety around public transport travel, the pandemic has also been a period of accelerated change. 

With 75 per cent of people having used at least two types of new technology during lockdown and 61 per cent of desk-based workers wanting to work from home more regularly after the pandemic, businesses have adopted more agile and footloose ways of working that seemed unimaginable just 11 months ago. But that is not to say that businesses want to leave the office behind altogether, and as we approach the end of this year, office and facilities managers are beginning to reassess their office footprint against these new ways of working. 

 

Time to De-Emphasise City Centre HQs? 

 

Following lockdowns across the UK, city-dwellers have rethought the need to base their lives around the centre of major urban hubs. With a rise in working from home, we have seen a radical shift from old property preferences, with desk-based workers now choosing homes with offices or studies and access to outdoor spaces over proximity to city centres.  

So, as workers leave major city centres, is it time for businesses to follow? In fact, while many people are moving house, they still do not want to work there all the time. Businesses are already starting to recognise this and adopt a “hub and spoke” model – a network of regional office spaces to power a more dispersed workforce. Standard Chartered has said that it will allow half of its 85,000 employees to work from rented office space closer to their homes from next year, while large corporates such as Virgin Money and Metro Bank have already begun this process, repurposing high street branches as office space rather than simply calling all staff back to city centres. 

Office space in the UK’s second or third cities, and particularly in the suburbs, will play a crucial part in hybrid working models, powering people to access all the benefits of the office closer to home, and on a more flexible basis after the pandemic. 

 

"A shift to hybrid working, combining flexible hours with home working and access to satellite office space, will be essential not only to empower employees in their own working lives, but also to enhance wellbeing and, in turn, productivity." 

Agile working 

 

“Presentee-ism” has long plagued traditional offices, with a culture of visibility that is too often detrimental to productivity, fuelling burnout and impacting employee’s wellbeing. This “always in” culture has become one of the most welcome causalities of the pandemic, with businesses encouraged to introduce more agile and flexible working policies. 

A shift to hybrid working, combining flexible hours with home working and access to satellite office space, will be essential not only to empower employees in their own working lives, but also to enhance wellbeing and, in turn, productivity. In fact, while people have undoubtedly lacked at home the amenities and opportunities that only a physical office can provide, over half of workers believe that their colleagues are just as productive now than before the first lockdown, if not more so. 

The benefits of a more agile working style for businesses are obvious – improved working culture, enhanced employee satisfaction and better retention chief among these. But it is also an opportunity to scale back desk commitments while tapping into new working patterns, which can minimise overheads for businesses weathering the continued impacts of coronavirus. 

 

Recognising new Transport Needs

 

Avoiding once long commutes has been a welcome break for lockdown workers, and many remain worried about crowded journeys into central offices on public transport. In June this year, polls found that 70 per cent of people were anxious about commuting by bus or train in London – a number that will struggle to decline while social distancing guidelines remain in place. 

Businesses are rightly working to accommodate this, with many offering flexible hours to reduce travel pressure at peak times and encouraging alternative means of transport, such as cycling. Taking steps to introduce cycle racks and improve ease of access for pedestrians is an important move in the right direction, but office space outside of the urban core can arguably offer much greater reassurance. Suburban locations offer far better parking options, with many of our BizSpace centres, for instance, offering private parking facilities, while many are also based on calmer roads where people can take more confidence in their safety when on bike or foot. 

 

Get the Technology Right

 

Yet, office space that improves worker wellbeing and enhances staff safety is not just about location or facilities, and looking ahead to new and more flexible working patterns, it’s clear that the technological capabilities of working spaces will be crucial. 

Workspace management tools, for example, can help office managers to better oversee social distancing in the immediate term, monitor occupational density and vastly improve efficiency, while shared working platforms and video conferencing will play a crucial part in integrating more footloose and agile teams. Facilities managers should not only think about what their office footprint looks like geographically, they must also think seriously about its technology profile for powering a truly successful transition to long-term hybrid working. 

There is no doubt that working norms are shifting and many will be rightly reluctant to return to the office as they left it, as business and employee needs and priorities continue to evolve. For facilities and office managers, now is the time to reassess their office footprint, to look to the regions, embrace hybrid working and leverage new technology. It may on the surface appear a daunting task, but these simple measures are just the place to start. 

Picture: a photograph of Emma Long

Article written by Emma Long | Published 03 December 2020

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