Editors Note: The following piece is an open-editorial from Luke Philpott, Joint CEO of DeVono Cresa.
On 23 March 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a press conference to mark a year to the day that the UK entered into its first COVID-19 induced lockdown. Unknown to us at the time, the national lockdown would fire the starting gun on what has been the most expansive work from home experiment in history. However, with the government having released its roadmap easing lockdown restrictions, businesses across the nation, at last, have a glimmer of a post-pandemic future.
Responding to COVID-19
Despite widespread criticism of the UK’s early approach to combating the pandemic, the UK vaccination rollout continues at pace, with over 30 million people now having received their first dose of a vaccine.
As a result, the UK economy will slowly reopen in the months ahead, with GDP growth presently forecast to increase by 5.4 per cent this year.
As lockdown restrictions ease, business leaders are now turning their attention to the prospect of returning their workforce to the office. Under what format and with what regularity remains to be seen, but it appears highly unlikely now that the office will be shunned to anywhere near the extent that many observers and commentators were quick to write about only a very short while ago.
The appeal and purpose of office space
Irrespective of my role as a real estate professional, I appreciate that the desire for office working may never be the same as life before COVID. In fact I welcome that. However, businesses must ensure they make effective long-term real estate decisions and balance predictable employee desire for flexible working, with the business-benefits of collaborating in numbers, in a physical place of work.
Given that the popularity of flexible working is likely to endure, ensuring an organisation’s office space is relevant, enjoyable and purposeful, is imperative as businesses navigate the ‘future of work’, while ensuring that fragile economic prospects are protected and not undermined by a wholesale switch to remote working.
Striking a balance between the office and home working
For those sceptical about the return to the office on legitimate business grounds, not fad or fascination, I would argue that the office still matters. An effervescently positive company culture, staff training, and employee onboarding are complex, if not outright impossible to achieve on a Zoom call, not to mention the loss of serendipity found when people congregate, work, converse and share their experiences in person.
Like a balanced diet, we need a little of everything – using offices strategically, in tandem with embracing the benefits of remote working for those that would like to spend at least some of their time away from the office is undoubtedly the new balance many will seek to strike. It would be a grave mistake to replace the dogma of working five days in an office with a fully remote working approach. If working during COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that balance and flexibility are both essential.
Navigating this balance will be a challenge for business leaders. In anticipation, DeVono Cresa has unveiled its Return-to-the-Office thesis, designed to guide organisations as they seek to create a coherent and strategic plan of action for their office space, new or existing.
Preparing for the end of lockdowns
A year after leaving the office, leaders who have not thought through their real estate strategy and how it may impact productivity, talent retention and well-being should reflect non this now, and act swiftly and decisively. Generic approaches to anything are rarely effective, and this is certainly true in the case of commercial real estate.
In under 90 days, we’ll hopefully be back en-masse in the office and working in thriving business districts, so crucial for the economy. Some organisations will return to the office effectively and use it as a springboard out of the COVID quagmire. Others, I fear, won’t. This period marks a moment whereby real estate advice that is occupier-centric, thoughtful, agile, open-minded, and underscored with experience is needed more than ever before.