While the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the majority of employees to work from home, the relevance of offices and office-bound working will remain post-Covid-19, say real estate role-players.
Sesfikile Capital research head Naeem Tilly says offices are critical to employee productivity and building a successful corporate culture, forming part of an effective talent retention and attraction strategy.
He adds that creativity, skills development and problem-solving are vastly improved through collaboration in groups, which is best achieved in an office environment.
This sentiment is supported by South African real estate investment trust Emira Property Fund COO Ulana van Biljon, who says offices will not disappear.
“Businesses need a place to gather and work – this will endure, but offices will evolve with changing times.”
With cost-efficiency and safeguarding staff’s health top priorities for business right now, she believes the new normal will favour office spaces that are greener, healthier and that cost less to operate.
“Well priced, modern, quality offices with green and healthier features that lower operating costs and are located in amenity-rich locations which are convenient for staff, will fare best going forward,” says Van Biljon.
Location preferences for offices could change, says Tilly.
“Some companies will continue to have centralised offices in major cities which many regard as being essential to create a sense of connection and energy. Others may abandon central headquarters for suburban office parks, which allow for employees working remotely to visit the local office easily.”
Well-maintained offices which are easily accessible and near transport hubs and amenities should continue to attract interest, he says.
Van Biljon believes larger corporates that have been consolidating over the last few years may reconsider the risk of housing all employees in one building, as a positive Covid-19 case could mean a shutdown of the entire office.
“Regional offices could offer more business continuity, so we might see a trend for more smaller offices which staff can move between depending on their requirements.”
While offices are set to remain relevant to business for the long-haul, the real changes to work spaces are likely to take place inside buildings. To some extent, the shock of Covid-19 has sped up changes already taking place in the workplace.
Van Biljon stresses that offices have to be value-packed for employees, offering user-friendly spaces that are convenient, easy to access, have integrated meeting spots, eateries, break-away zones – all wrapped up in an attractive package.
“Flexi-hours and the combination of working from the office and home will increase. There will also be a need for flexible space and co-working. But, it is important that any office space is ‘guaranteed as clean’, certainly until a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available,” she explains.
The de-concentration of staff densities could be one short-term result of the pandemic, so businesses may keep the same amount of office space, and have a certain percentage of staff working at safe distances in the office while others work remotely.
In this regard, air-conditioning, fresh-air systems and windows that can open could receive more emphasis. Contactless ablution entrances will be in demand.
In addition, biometrics will move backwards, but facial recognition security could become the new normal.