prediction series: 2 of 6

Simon Johnson, Director at Incendium, has shared his predictions for the world of corporate office space in the aftermath of COVID-19. This article is part of a series of six, with further instalments published here.

Instalment 2

Overnight change

COVID-19 has (at least temporarily) changed everything and a seismic shift has been forced upon us overnight.

Offices are deserted, except for 5-10% of office workers who cannot work from home. Commuting has all but ceased, both from road and rail perspectives. Business travel has evaporated, with planes largely grounded.

The pre-COVID-19 shackles on homeworking have been smashed and our capacity for functioning remotely is being tested to the extreme. 4 weeks in and it seems to be holding up pretty well.

There were teething problems to begin with, but IT networks and broadband capacity are broadly coping. Collaboration software, albeit understandably unstable at times, is working well. This will improve over time. Many of us are spending much of the day in virtual meetings, which has taken some getting used to, but equally (for now) most of us are enjoying not having to suffer the daily commute to work.

Many people I speak to are finding that there is a better balance and rhythm to the day emerging and that they are generally as, if not more, productive. It is important to note however that claims of enhanced productivity will not be universal (and may not be true) and so caution should be exercised here, which I will explore later.

Set against this, it is very challenging being socially restricted and isolated from physical human contact (family, friends, colleagues and neighbours). There are evident wellbeing, physical and mental health challenges that we are all having to navigate ourselves and be far more mindful of with each other, while we are in lockdown.

A crucial and linked point is the undoubted positive environmental side-effect. It will be fascinating to start to see empirical data and analysis on this, as it potentially adds significant weight to the arguments towards more permanent and lasting change.

However, when the lockdown restrictions are lifted, what will the new reality and normality be?

There has been much speculation and some excellent observations in the recent press and publications, including a sample below:

“Working from home proves that offices are out of date – we’re more productive in our jim-jams” – Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times

“The end of the office has been greatly exaggerated” – The FT

“Six ways coronavirus may change our world” – Matthew Taylor, RSA 21st Century Enlightenment

“The COVID-19 crisis will change society, trade and economics” – John Nugée, OMFIF

“The pandemic is a portal” – Arundhati Roy, The FT

With a specific lens on corporate real estate, and as a real estate focused management consultancy professional who routinely encounters these issues with all of my clients across both public and private sectors, here are my predictions…

The next instalment in the series is due to be released here on the 17th April 2020.

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