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No business as usual
David Hornstein, a senior building surveyor at HartDixon, ponders the puzzle of the post-pandemic workplace
While ‘freedom day’ is now months behind us and being double jabbed is de rigueur, pre-pandemic working patterns have not yet re-established themselves as the norm.
There are, however, plenty of signs – be it busier city centres or fuller train carriages – to suggest a comeback of the daily commute and nine-to-five grand could be on the cards in the not-too-distant future.
One likely reason for this return to past practices is – as all those who had to contend with sub-standard broadband speeds, bad backs brought on by being hunched over a laptop and the constant hubbub of children during lockdown will testify – homeworking is not everybody’s holy grail.
Similarly, it is recognised that innovation does not thrive in isolation and that for team cohesion and business development there is a compelling case for water cooler moments and regular face-to-face interaction.
The growing chorus of business leaders championing a rewind to 2019 comes despite the UK’s lockdowns demonstrating unequivocally that remote working is not the preserve of the work-shy or a threat to productivity, with many companies enjoying an upturn in both efficiency and employee morale while offices remained off limits.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many people found professional peace in getting to spend more time with family and being able to start and end their ‘shifts’ at a desk without the discomfort of a crowded tube journey or frustration of navigating rush-hour roads.
A quick confirmatory glance at the residential sector provides plenty of evidence that homeworking is no longer a routine of last resort for businesses. Demand for properties in suburbia, seaside locations and countryside settings has soared as a consequence of city workers reassessing their immediate surroundings and seeking to secure larger properties with gardens and space for a home office.
Striking a balance between the two camps is the formidable task facing the commercial property sector, in which the COVID cliché of a ‘new normal’ has become firmly cemented in the lexicons of landlords.
At HartDixon we are close to the coalface and have already helped property owners to bring greater agility to the working world.
Take, for example, our role in repurposing a two-storey building situated in the heart of London’s Fitzrovia. Flexing our project management and contract administration skills, we assisted in tailoring the address to meet the needs of contemporary occupiers seeking a low hassle, plug-and-play office solution.
New arrivals at 19 Fitzroy Street now benefit from a flexible, agile working environment which boasts a mix of fixed- and hot-desks, spacious break-out areas and meeting rooms, and modern kitchenette and shower facilities.
Such CAT A+ projects – innovative reimaginations of traditional offices – hold obvious appeal to those at the helm of small- and medium-sized enterprises. After all, what’s not for them to like about enticements such as ‘fully furnished’, ‘pay-as-you-use’, ‘managed by someone else’ and ‘all-inclusive fees’?
Certainly, for forward thinking landlords that can combine their valuable office stock with a service that suits tomorrow’s employers, there is plenty of opportunity to prosper.
However, designing for a yet undefined new normal also presents plenty of challenges. Whether it’s cost per square metre or managing lease structures, there is a point where plug-and-play becomes less profitable.
The true legacy of COVID on the commercial sector will take some time yet to manifest but it is abundantly obvious that the flexibility employers will be expected to extend to their personnel will be needed in spades by those housing them.