The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly reshaped the way we work, compelling many of us to work from home and blurring the lines between home and work. For some, the pandemic has accelerated a trend towards agile and flexible working which was already in train.
Against this background, for its latest webinar, ULI Europe spoke to a leading and innovative office developer and an operator about the future for offices and other workplaces.
Moderated by Roelof Opperman, Managing Director of Fifth Wall, ULI invited Coen van Oostrom, Founder and CEO of EDGE Technologies, and Mark Dixon, Founder and CEO of IWG, to share their views on how the workplace is going to change.
Both panellists shared the view that COVID-19 has been a significant catalyst for those pre-existing trends towards agile and flexible working, though not necessarily in the way we might expect.
Despite the huge working from home experiment brought on by the lockdown, Dixon believes that people will eventually want to return to the office, but that they will also want to cut down on commuting and work where it’s most convenient.
He argued that, with more people able to run their office from a laptop or smartphone, the workplace has now become a virtual space, and physical offices will become more focused on collaboration and communication.
According to Dixon, further technological changes will push us towards a hybrid model of the office, where centralised, high-quality, purpose-built headquarters for meetings and collaboration will be paired with more home-working for email and report writing.
The real estate industry now needs to create the infrastructure which will transform offices into creative, collaborative spaces and dispense with the rigidity of the traditional office.
But it’s not just the home working experiment that has driven this need for better technology.
Oostrom suggests that health and sustainability will also play a significant role, with sensors measuring air humidity and ambient temperature to ensure the health and safety of employees, with other measurement tools tracking the building’s environmental impact through its carbon emissions and energy use.
Dixon and Van Oostrom also discussed future business models. According to Dixon, occupiers want to buy a product, instead of buying parts and put them together themselves supported by consultants. The future office is outsourced, priced, financed and operational from day one.
In terms of financing, Oostrom believes there is still much uncertainty around the future.
Currently institutional investors demand predictable, long-term secure returns, but occupiers want to have flexibility, without long commitments.
Oostrom argued that a hybrid model where the owner provides the capital for the investment, and an operator takes a master lease, and subsequently sublets units to tenants, can bridge the gap between those two worlds, with pension funds backing flexible providers with the capabilities to serve smaller tenants.
For Dixon, ultimately short-term cost management will have the biggest impact. Companies will be reluctant to sign long leases after the lockdown ends. When it does, they will almost certainly want to stick to flexible working patterns.