Remote Working Should Continue Long After the Pandemic, But Possibly Not Full Time
Obviously, there are advantages to working remotely and in the workplace, yet how to find some kind of harmony? While each circumstance is extraordinary, we take a 30,000-foot perspective on what that may resemble for the future of commercial real estate.
While telecommuting for work gives the possibility for organizations to decreased the cost of office space, working in an office space environment often gives their own advantages that are hard to duplicate. A recent report out of Stanford University found that, while there were noteworthy profitability gains from permitting laborers to work four out of five days per week at home, generally 50% of those laborers decided to come back to the workplace, saying they felt lonely when not working within a dedicated office space environment. These office employees concluded that they gained more from going into the office space, in spite of an extra 40-minute drive.
Remote working does increase efficiency when a laborer is accomplishing singular work, for example, coding or composing a report, yet up close and personal contact is as yet significant for effective collaboration. Sharing thoughts and building a group culture and team effort are for the most part hard to do remotely. A Harvard Business Review study on Open Offices found that telecommuters communicated 80% less.
While employee sentiment is one factor in determining the right long-term remote working policy, employers are still the ones who ultimately make that decision. The policy that attracts and retains the most talent, fosters collaboration and innovation, increases efficiency, saves money and ultimately leads to the highest productivity should theoretically be the one most embraced by firms. Beyond the desire for part-time remote working, there is evidence to suggest that the utility of working from home plateaus at 15.1 hours, or roughly two days per week. After that point, the isolation from coworkers can lead to loneliness and blurs the lines between work and home life, which could erode the balance that many workers are presumably trying to achieve by working from home in the first place.
Collaborative functions that work better in the office than over a Zoom meeting will likely increase in the future. Trending in the opposite direction, the space dedicated to personal workstations is likely to decline since solitary tasks will be prioritized during the days away from the office. Client meetings, brainstorming with colleagues and informal meetups in the kitchen, hallways and lounge areas that can lead to productive, serendipitous encounters that firms hope to capture are examples of what works best in the office and what is more challenging to replicate virtually.
Perhaps the most pivotal question for future office demand will be whether the trend towards a more agile workplace, including “hot-desking,” will resume post-pandemic. Hot-desking, while certainly not feasible during the initial return to the office due to the risk of infection, would be the most efficient solution for firms adopting partial work-from-home policies. This practice had been poorly received by most workers prior to the pandemic and may not be feasible, even after a vaccine is in place, given the risk of spreading germs. That said, employees receiving a flexible arrangement that allows partial working from home may be more willing to accept hot-desking as part of the new reality in which virtually all employees are only part-time users of office space. However, it will be up to tenants, tenant representation, and landlords to be thoughtful and creative in how they design future workspaces and commercial real estate.
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