The return to the office; what we are witnessing and hearing – Paul Wise, Head of Commercial

Undoubtedly over the last few weeks there has been a significant push back to the office. London definitely feels markedly busier than at any time over the last 20 months.

Clearly and understandably the return is going to be cautious over the next few months, especially as we go into winter, but it will be very interesting to see where office occupation levels land in 12 months time when (touch wood/fingers crossed) Covid 19 is a manageable thing of the past!

Future occupation levels are going to have huge ramifications for the property industry. This will be across the board for everyone from fund managers and investment surveyors, through to office designers and fit out contractors. Obviously if occupiers start to downsize and cut space as break clauses and lease expiries become due over the next 24 months, coupled with reduced general demand, we could see a downward rental pressure which in turn will impact investment yields and capital values. At the moment it still feels too early to predict and headline rents only seem to have moved marginally, if at all, for the Grade A buildings.

From speaking and working with occupier clients here it appears that companies are taking a varied approach on the return to the office and there is no solution that fits all. Some of our clients have been particularly proactive in refreshing their space to encourage their colleagues back to the office and embrace a new hybrid working pattern. This will involve more relaxed furniture, more meeting rooms and collaborative and break out working areas. In most cases a new safer environment with more circulation space is going to be adopted. Personally I used to quite like the closer dealer desk type environment (as long as the AC was working!!) but this is likely to be a thing of the past. Companies may well look to try and downsize but once these more spacious and meeting led office environments are built in, the square footage requirements may well be the same.

The weekly use of the office may also be a challenge as it looks like hybrid workers base themselves from home Mondays and Fridays and come into the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – no acronym required!! For CFO’s and FD’s seeing a costly office only being used to its optimum 3 out of 7 days a week is going to be frustrating.

The general push back to the office seems to be driven also by demographics and gender. In particular for the under 30’s who are keen for interaction, training and clear career progression; which of course is more challenging being at home! Interestingly The Telegraph newspaper recently carried out a poll via “Findoutnow” claiming that only 1 in 10 women working from home plan to return to the office fully.

My opinion is that whilst we are close to a full employment environment, employers will be mindful that they will need to work with their staff to create an environment that they are comfortable working in. Companies and the public sector won’t want to lose good people who are difficult and expensive to replace by forcing them back into the office an extra day a week. Plus as more environmental constraints and carbon reduction commitments become placed upon businesses, they will need to reduce collective commute times for colleagues, particularly by car.

In truth no one really knows what the future office will look like but we are highly likely to see some substantial changes in use and working patterns over the next few years.

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