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“It is inevitable that change is coming. At Elevator, we have re-thought our property offering to the provision of flexible, short term space suitable for teams to safely work with social distancing in place."

Karen Pugh Property Director

Amid warnings that some lockdown restrictions could stay in place into 2021, companies are grappling with the seismic shift and questioning just how our office-based environments will look in the near and distant future.  

Karen Pugh, Elevator Property Director, breaks down the implications the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic might have on the commercial property market and why we could be seeing an accelerated shift towards new working behaviours.

“When isolation and social distancing measures were introduced, those who didn’t fall into the essential-worker category were forced to abandon daily commutes and exit offices en masse. While there is not a silver lining bright enough to entirely eclipse the worries business owners face as they prepare to open their doors to staff and clients, we are witnessing the birth of positive trends which come with our new ways of working.

Behavioural Change 

“According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2019 only 5% of the UK’s active 32.6million workforce considered their home as their main place of work. With 70% - 23.9million, having zero experience of working from home.

“Overall trends have seen a slight but steady shift to homeworking in recent years but, now, COVID-19 has accelerated this shift. The rapid update of digital technology has allowed us to hold online meetings, catch-ups and even weekly coffee huddles. Through a massive redirection of effort and resources, many organisations moved overnight to adopt a remote working environment.

“For many, successful homeworking practices have been adopted with welcomed benefits for individuals’ wellbeing and lifestyles. Although some may see this as the demise of company cultures, those with the right culture and drive to move with the times will emerge more powerful than ever before.

Demand for Solo and Socially Distant Space

“Even before the pandemic hit, the commercial property market was seeing an increased demand in co-working and flexible serviced offices. The uncertainty it brings could cause more companies to look for flexible space that can accommodate rapid changes to their needs.

“Companies will look for more agile ways of working to reduce the cost of office space. Additionally, as employers begin to take a more active role in ensuring that employees are adequately distanced, there will no longer be a desire for densification and open plan models.

“Office locations will change too. Commuting to and the need of city centre space no longer seems important. While this will have a direct impact on local economies - with low numbers of workers affecting smaller businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants, as we start to open up this will also present opportunities in terms of delivery offerings and diversification for these smaller businesses to bring their products to the workers out with the city centre.

Re-Opening Doors

“It’s not too early to be planning to re-open business doors for occupancy. However, landlords need to earn the respect, trust and loyalty of tenants, with companies needing to earn the same from employees.

“Experts have already suggested that a combination of short-term fixes aimed at boosting worker confidence will be key to seeing employees return safely to their desks.  Modifications that put hygiene at the heart of the workplace are paramount.

“Companies must use this time pro-actively, implementing hygiene and HSE measures will be vital before reaching the return to work stage, for example introducing two-meter markers; one-way systems, if necessary; one in one out agreements in all communal areas etc. Many employees and tenants will feel hypersensitive about our move into the new norm, protecting relationships, retaining tenancies and holding value are paramount.

The Next Phase

“It is inevitable that change is coming. At Elevator, we have re-thought our property offering to the provision of flexible, short term space suitable for teams to safely work with social distancing in place.

“As doors start to open and demand shifts to less or more square footage, alternative or new locations, differing length of terms or fixed pricing, one thing is certain, the commercial property space is being reshaped by 2020’s climate change.”  

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