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Commercial Property Insight – What does the future hold for offices after COVID-19?

Daniel Smethurst BSc (Hons) MRICS looks at the impact of COVID-19 on the future of the office – 

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives, including tasks as fundamental as going to work. Whilst there are those who claim that the modern office is dead, I firmly believe that there is still huge value to be had from a dedicated office space. You simply cannot underestimate the importance face to face meetings play in nurturing creativity and generating business opportunities, not to mention the social integration of employees.  The way we work may have changed but I believe that what we are witnessing is more of an office evolution as opposed to a revolution.

When the COVID pandemic is over offices will still be in use but used differently.  To quote Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. Successful companies will be those who place greater importance on the design of their workplaces. Offices can no longer be densely packed and working environments will need to provide the necessary space for distancing so that they become a place where employees want to be rather than are obliged to be. It will be these organisations who will see employees understanding the importance of these spaces once again and being much more willing to return.

Flexible working methods have an important role to play in shaping our working environment going forward, and I would argue that a more blended approach is what is required. The very notion of an option to come into shared office space may seem alien right now but a hybrid approach would provide much-needed networking opportunities and teambuilding capabilities. Homeworking is an effective short – medium-term solution but is it the “silver bullet” to the way we work long term?

Whilst the benefits of more flexible working cannot be ignored many employees will ultimately struggle to find a homework life balance and it will become increasingly difficult to monitor and gauge employee wellbeing. For many, the switch to homeworking will be transient but for others, it may take months to adapt and the impact on mental health from a lack of physical interaction and integration cannot be taken too lightly.

Covid-19 has changed the way we view our daily lives and Ben Cullen (Cushman and Wakefield) raised an interesting point in a recent article when he suggested that in a world where people commute less often it is perfectly plausible that they will commute further in search of a better quality of life and lower living costs. It is feasible, therefore, that we, share our time between home, regional hubs, and the city. This working approach is likely to be sector-specific and there will be instances where organisations will simply lose synergy by adopting a complete homeworking model.

Swindon is well placed to capitalise on the regional hub model as it is witnessing major growth, has superb connectivity and its commercial real estate offering is extremely competitive when compared to Bristol and Reading. That said, competitive occupational costs alone will not attract occupiers – we need to forward plan and deliver a vibrant amenity for meetings and leisure if the town is to be promoted as an alternative to the bright lights of the city.

The commercial property markets will inevitably see a correction, and some would argue that this is long overdue.  For many occupiers, it will be a case of striking the right balance between the level of commitment and the incentives on offer. It is anticipated that some SME’s will seek greater flexibility whilst corporates will continue to commit to more conventional lease terms such as their capital investment in their space. Commercial property markets have been choked by an undersupply of commercial stock over recent years and any realignment in the office sector will provide a fantastic opportunity for landlords to reinvest in their assets and create workspaces for the future.

Daniel Smethurst is the owner of Smethurst Property Consultants and has been involved with some of the most significant office transactions in Swindon over the last 20 years.