Space to Work: Offices in 2020

How will professional services use their property space going forward?

In March 2020, we published a Property Advisory whitepaper report; Space to Work: Offices in 2020. Our opening line reads: The world of work has transformed and with it the workplace itself.

The impact of COVID-19 and the disruption we have all experienced in the subsequent months means this is truer now than ever it was before.

Our report explores the transformation of the office environment and how the property advisory industry itself has been responding to existing challenges; both in terms of its offering to clients and how property businesses were changing their own approach to the real estate they inhabit. This transformation will continue, but taking a different path, and at a hugely accelerated rate.

The speed at which we have observed businesses adapt to support remote and flexible working in response to COVID-19 has been phenomenal. And the same will be required to adapt working environments to be suitable for social distancing. There is no doubt that the way professional services firms use their office space from here forward will change, the question is to what extent, and how this may differ over the short and long term.

Space to Work: Offices in 2020

In Autumn 2019, we interviewed leaders working across the workplace industry and our findings are outlined in the report. The views of our experts have likely changed in light of recent events, however the key themes of our report and its emphasis on flexibility remain very relevant;

  • Technology: Technological advances have fundamentally altered what work needs to be done, how it is performed and, importantly, where and when it is performed. This has led to a reduction in space requirements, with tech allowing for remote working to become the norm rather than the exception.
  • Rising costs: Rising costs in premium city locations had encouraged occupiers to be smarter with their real estate usage, while also recognising its critical role in attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent.
  • People: Businesses are now more aware than perhaps they have ever been to the critical value inherent in their people, and are seeking new ways to unlock it to drive productivity.

The war for talent and the drive to get the best out of the workforce are paramount. Property strategies have a key role in delivering higher levels of productivity and generating value from high performing individuals.

Will we ever use office space in the same way?

COVID-19 is possibly the biggest opportunity for professional service firms to reconsider and redesign the way they use property. Now really could be seen as a blank page moment:

  • Hot-desking is certainly off the cards for the short term, so will a smaller desk to staff ratio now be relevant?
  • Is there merit in adapting office space to allow for social distancing, or does the cost outweigh the benefits – especially if the property is not being used a full capacity?
  • The demand for face to face contact remains, but working from home has now been proved possible. Will we see some real radical solutions, where desks are ripped out and office space is transformed into flexible space used only for collaborative purposes?

We expect business continuity planning will look different across professional services firms, but in order to thrive in the modern economy, businesses must continue to be agile and adaptable. One thing is certain - there is not a one size fits all approach and businesses face tough decisions around their property and work spaces.

What does the future hold for the property advisory market?

The industry has been leading the charge in helping businesses adapt for the evolving reality of the modern workplace. However, with supply and demand in the property market likely to change, a more radical change in thinking may be required. To what extent will firms seek shorter or more flexible lease terms? And how will the industry respond if firms reduce their office footprint by up to 50%?

The full extent to which COVID-19 will impact future property requirements and usage for professional services firms remains to be seen, but there is no doubt the property advisory industry will have a large role to play in meeting the changing needs of office landlords and tenants.

Read our report to learn more about the key trends in the use office space that have been exacerbated by the current situation and why flexibility is so important now more than ever.

Download our report 

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