Coronavirus – What Does it mean for the Office?

Across every continent, a wave of uncertainty and concern is causing humanity to quietly consider its vulnerability. The impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is unprecedented in modern times and certainly beyond the memory of most people of working age. It’s not unreasonable therefore that the first thought of individuals is that of self-preservation – or at least trying to avoid catching a virus that has caused a global pandemic.

What is perhaps most surprising though is where the biggest impact is being felt – the workplace. Whether it’s wholesale shutdowns, trial working from home exercises, or full-scale business continuity planning, the office as we know it could be one of the unfortunate victims of COVID-19. It’s not hard to see why.

With enforced work from home policies, precautionary self-isolation, and ever-expanding travel restrictions, offices have become ever more virtual. Years of investment in technology mean that laptops, the cloud, video conferencing and VoIP are just a few of the variables that make today’s workers more agile. Technology allows a ‘work anywhere’ mindset and increasingly that is within the comfort and [perceived] security of our own four walls.

So what next?

The issue is quite simple. Whilst many companies have adopted agility and mobility and encourage staff to work from home, utilising all the technological advances available, this isn’t the case for all. For a large proportion of businesses, flexibility and agility have never been ‘baked in’ to networks, office space and working processes. They just wanted good efficient tech that enabled their people to work hard ‘in the office’. The idea of groups working from their own homes was not at the forefront of their decision making. It would never work. The business couldn’t function. Teams needed to be together. The ‘post-Corona’ office is slowly changing the idea of that. Those who never believed in individuals or teams working remotely may be starting to find that it can work and bring with it new benefits – things like work/life balance, employee satisfaction and staff retention. Even happiness. It could even become an established way of working across every business.

This then raises interesting questions about the office and what it could become. We should not pretend offices will slowly die out as a tool for commerce; that’s not going to happen. What is more likely though is that we will see trends that have emerged over the last half-decade gather pace and evolve still further. Task-based working spaces, increased break out and social space, and areas dedicated to mindfulness. A home from home where people connect and work together. We may see a cross-sector transformation of the office. With it will come new challenges and opportunities for clients. The prospect of clients taking things one step further with redundancy and business continuity planning also exists. In an era of Coronavirus, Brexit and even climate change, businesses, particularly those of scale, are thinking about ‘what ifs’ and incorporating that into their resource, space and business planning.

Of course, it is far too early to say that any of this will truly embed but with the potential for many months of disruption, if not longer, the likely trend of looking at office space differently must be greater than ever. Specifically, we must think far more about the role and purpose of our workplaces and plan for what the office really needs to provide and enable while protecting our most precious asset – our people. This is a time of enormous uncertainty and one that will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on our industry and change the way we advise, support and ultimately represent our clients and their needs. We stand ready to meet the future.

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