Offices will always be needed. Home office is not enough in business

Although home office works fine in some exceptional situations and for special sectors and professions, it does not if done on a large scale or a daily basis. This is my firm belief as a real estate advisor and as an employer and team manager, says Artur Sutor, Partner, Head of Office Department, Cresa Poland.

As soon as the pandemic broke out, the office sector started talking about home office and its impact on the post-pandemic market. With massive numbers of people working now from home, do we really need so many square metres of office space? How about establishing permanent home office for 20 or 30 percent of employees? It would mean savings on rent. When asked for an opinion, I will honestly advise against it. First things first, I am confident that it would be false economy – it won’t help much and will actually often harm your business.


Costs are too high for business

Wages are still the biggest single cost for most companies. Tenants will bear also expenses on data security and preparation of technological back-up facilities, and will have limited control over teamwork. Added to this are social and psychological costs of isolation and the costs of the lack of information, knowledge and opinion sharing - in one word: stagnation.

I am not against home office as such. It works fine in exceptional situations and for special sectors and professions, but I know one thing: it just does not work if done on a large scale or a daily basis. I say this not only as a real estate advisor, but also as an employer and team manager, a husband and father of two children.

What about cooperation and information sharing?

Paradoxically, this large-scale experiment with working from home has revealed many disadvantages of home office and the importance of face-to-face contacts for a team, of being able to ask a question to a colleague sitting two desks away, or of a spontaneous brainstorm in an open plan office. Open space is underpinned by this philosophy of opinion and knowledge sharing - and contrary to the standards years ago, it is not designed today to make savings. A smart open plan office with comfortable spaces for employees, conference rooms, a nice kitchen and chillout room will require more space than a private office plan. Hundreds of corporations opting for open plan offices have learnt from their own experience that employee integration will benefit business. There would be no place for it in private offices. So, what happens to information sharing when employees are confined to their homes? Will they be making conference calls all day long to work efficiently?

Our experience also shows that not everyone will get along in such a situation. Each organisation has both single players and great team players who achieve successes by working together or through healthy competition. And how to train new blood in the home office system? Even assuming that they do come to the office, who will they learn from there? How are they to develop and build ties with a company whose most seasoned employees are out of office?

The suit will switch your mind to the work mode

Mixing work and personal life is another drawback of home office. Your doings and emotions all get mixed up – it’s the spillover from work-to-home and from home-to-work. But to keep mentally healthy I need some rituals to rely on: get up in the morning, brush my teeth, have breakfast, drink coffee, and put on a suit. It is a signal for my brain that I am about to start work. On my way to the office I will sort out my early morning thoughts and plan my day ahead. When I’m back home late in the afternoon, even if I sometimes have a business phone call or two, answer an urgent email, I have all that time for myself: my family, rest, a book/game or my hobby, doing whatever I like. Mixing business and family is no good for either – nor is it good for your mental health.

While the cat’s away, the mice will play

And last but not least, as far as home office goes, there’s limited control over employees or possibility of bringing them to book. It is frequently impossible to measure employee performance in terms of results, and people working from home will begin to lack motivation after some time. People are different and their strength lies in it. Some will however struggle to get out of bed in the morning, plan their day and get round to doing things when they are on their own. Especially when there are so many distractors around: check Facebook, play an episode of your favourite series, or start cleaning up because the mess is distracting you…

Too little data and too many rash decisions

Home office was an option in offices long before the coronavirus pandemic – primarily as a bonus to attract talents. The shift towards the work-from-home model was driven by employees, not by business growth or to benefit a company. But the labour market is changing – it’s hard to say today what it will look like in a couple of months, but one thing is almost certain: there will be no going back to the tight labour market from the start of this year. That’s why before you decide to downsize your office and switch to home office for more than one day a week, you should carefully weigh up the pros and cons and calculate whether vacating a few square metres will have a positive effect on your bottom line at the end of the day, given all related business and psychological costs.

We are, however, aware that a return to normalcy will not be easy for many. Some of our clients will start looking for ways to bring costs down – there are many other ways to do so in addition to work from home. We will be pleased to engage with clients on this topic and offer advice, as well as an insightful and in-depth analysis of opportunities on the real estate market.

Author: Artur Sutor, Partner, Head of Office Department, Cresa Poland

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