THE FUTURE OF WORK

Working from home has its benefits, but so does the office – it’s where I met my wife

 

by Michael Healy, Director, Savills Ireland

 

The recent decision by Twitter to allow employees – whose jobs permit it – to work from home indefinitely, has raised questions about the future of the post-COVID-19 office market.

Some commentators are suggesting that companies will require less space, with employees choosing to work for home more often – or even full-time. Others are adamant that employers will need more space to allow for social distancing, and that the days of the open-plan office are numbered. Taking both of these factors into account, perhaps the two will balance out, and companies will need the exact amount of space that they already had pre-COVID-19.

For most employers – and their employees – the office is a place to congregate, collaborate, manage, supervise, socialise and, most importantly, to do work before it’s time to go home and unwind.

For some, especially younger generations that come from all over the world to work in Dublin’s thriving tech sector, the office is more like a university campus than a workplace, where they can eat, exercise, work, learn, socialise, unwind – and the only reason to go home is to sleep.

The lockdown has raised a lot of questions about the way we live our lives. For those with young families (I am in that demographic), the extra time we are spending with them is a bonus, especially for the workaholics amongst us.

And no matter where you sit on the fence of this debate, one of the clear advantages of working from home is not having to commute – and getting that time back.

However, there are drawbacks. For example, your home is your office – or your office is your home – making it more difficult to call time on the workday. Moreover, the lack of interaction with people in a physical setting, the Groundhog Day effect of the same routine day in, day out – and even a lack of change in scenery – will undoubtedly impact our mental wellbeing.

When it is safe to do so, I intend to go back to the office, as I miss the daily interaction and collaboration with colleagues.

Of course, for many employees, returning to the office in the near-term will not be an option if they have an underlining health issue, are taking care of children or someone in a at-risk group, or if they are uncomfortable using public transport.

Many companies are choosing not to open until later in the year – or even next year in some cases –  when, hopefully, social distancing requirements will be more relaxed, but it is becoming apparent that workplaces will not return to normal until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

For the moment, it’s too early to predict whether companies will need more or less space in the future, and no two company requirements will be the same, but there are many knowns.

For example, the majority of office-based employees can’t work from their homes full-time, hot-desking is unlikely to be a popular solution in the medium term, and it is difficult to manage people when they work remotely all the time – one Zoom meeting a day is enough!

Furthermore, while it might appear that moving a workforce to the home will save on a company’s overheads, this is not the case. Each employee will require a computer and monitor – preferably double screens – in addition to a phone, ergonomically designed desk and chair, and perhaps even a printer, in addition to the usual stationery you would find in the workplace.

This equipment needs to be maintained and replaced over time, further adding to costs. There is also the issue of space. What if someone lives in a small apartment and shares with a friend or partner – where will they work? Will an employer need to subsidise the cost of larger living spaces for employees?

And one of the most important points, which has been generally overlooked in this debate, is security. Residential Wi-Fi and home network firewalls are no match for their corporate equivalent – leaving companies of all sizes at risk of security breaches which could have devastating effects.

As we slowly migrate back to the office in the coming weeks and months, it’s important that employers take time to review their office space requirements. Any knee-jerk decision to move to full-time remote working could have adverse effects in the long-term, and so it’s important that this debate continues.

My job at Savills is to help companies find and secure office space, so it could be said that I have a vested interest – and perhaps I do – but what I will say, from a personal point of view, is that working from home has its benefits, but so does the office – it’s where I met my wife.

Michael Healy is Director of Savills Ireland and head of Tenant Representation & Workthere (Savills serviced Office brokerage platform). For more information visit www.savills.ie.

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