BUSINESSES depend on people and knowledge to operate successfully.
Office space is the primary place where the transfer of knowledge occurs, and it is second only to salaries as the largest expense for most organisations.
And that is rapidly changing even before the outbreak of Covid-19.
The rapid development of technology provided a significant impact on the way one operates today.
One can work from any location so long the individual can have access to cell phone signal.
Young people entering the work force are not using office space the way their seniors did.
Big office is no longer the perk it once was. Instead, what is important to the young generation is the quality of their interaction.
They increasingly are evolving today’s workplace by defining how, when, where, and with whom they want to work.
Meanwhile, the pandemic virus has dramatically accelerated a trend towards remote work that was already underway over the last decade.
With social distancing, many of the office workers have not seen their desks for some time.
Even when coronavirus lockdowns have started to ease, there may be fewer desks to return to.
Many may prefer to work from home out of caution or convenience. And businesses facing a sudden need to cut costs, it now appears that property portfolios look like a good place to start, especially with the businesses having adapted to remote set-ups.
By now it is clear that the pandemic virus will change the way we work in offices – perhaps indefinitely.
Less certain is the impact these physical and structural changes will have on corporate culture.
Besides, corporate culture can be described as the warm feeling employees have or the high expectations of a company’s management team.
Corporate culture is the essences that builds the loyalty and trust workers have for their employer and defines the nature of an organisation.
Up until recently, it was built within the confines of a company’s office.
But the pandemic virus is likely to bring about a turning point in corporate culture as businesses contend with a more remote workforce that lack the ability to connect in one room or even, in some circumstances, face-to-face.
While it may keep workers safe, it will likely feel more unproductive, less connected and perhaps involve fewer chances for employees to grow.
And so, the office of the future post-pandemic may resemble more of a place out of a movie, leaving some to worry this may have a massive impact on employee morale and corporate culture.
One aspect about work post-pandemic that appears to be universally agreed upon is that employees are unlikely to come back all at once.
They need to stage it in teams or staggered. This may create frustration.
It is going to be a long haul and will be difficult to keep people’s spirits up in the long-term, especially those who have been impacted by the illness.
There is risk of experiencing inefficiencies of working from home and missing the connectivity and productivity an office environment.
The daily work environment, the daily interaction, the social energy that is created and makes working for a company part and parcel of why one wants to get up every day and give it all is something that just cannot replicate working from home.
But others believe the new normal will be more positive.
And so, it is important to extend the office culture into the work-from-home culture.
By encouraging casual Zoom coffee breaks to check in and see how people are doing, or getting creative with birthday celebrations and events that might have played a big role in the company culture pre-Covid are ways to improve corporate culture.
And the question now is whether we need office?
The answer is, yes, but with a greater focus on flexibility, wellness, and collaboration.
As employees increasingly have a choice of where to work, the office must both coexist and compete with the safety of staying home, the comfort of a favorite cafe, or the convenience of a coworking space.
The result is much more variability in when and how offices are used along with increased employee expectations of the workplace.
Millennials now make up over a third of the workplace and overwhelmingly value flexibility in where, when and how to work. And top talent has been increasingly clustering in dense urban areas and has been unwilling to commute to suburban office parks.
Employees have come to expect the same level of technology in their personal and work lives.
For corporations, this poses a complex challenge. How to cost-effectively provide the right kind of office space.
When and where it is needed. Solving this problem creates a wealth of opportunity for property-tech in several broad areas.
First is on the core needs where it creates big opportunities for innovation and allow rethinking of how building controllers are built, installed, and programmed with an emphasis on ease of installation and automated control.
Next is on the security systems control access to offices, elevators, turnstiles, data centres, and other secured spaces.
Focus will also have to be on the space needs.
Facing the twin pressures of providing high-quality space in expensive urban centers and supporting employees with flexibility in where they work, companies need new tools to understand how space is used, manage utilisation, and provide new locations cost effectively.
And lastly it is on the productivity needs. Engaged and inspired employees are more productive and drive better financial results.
The workplace plays a key role in employee engagement and employee productivity.
Workplace apps will extend to focus on even more aspects of our workday including fostering collaboration, building community and providing “quantified self” feedback on how we work.
The bottom line is that while Covid-19 has disrupted the real estate business today, it will largely accelerate trends and create more opportunities for property-tech as businesses reopen.
There are opportunities from broadly applicable core needs to higher-value productivity needs. And successful companies will emerge.
Office would have a future, albeit in different forms.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own.