The future of the office is less space but better space, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Proptech, Data and Innovation Summit, which took place online yesterday.
“It has taken a pandemic to force us to do what we should have been doing anyway,” said Antony Slumbers, CEO, PropAI and co-founder, Real Innovation Academy. “There’s been a rapid and sudden change in the office sector and, however long it takes to get over Covid-19, we’re not going to return to the world as it was, and that’s a good thing.”
The way things were in February is “history now”, he said in his presentation, The Office After Covid-19. Two main changes have occurred: first, we have realised that our buildings can harm us. Being in a confined space with many other people can potentially expose us to illness.
Secondly, we have been part of “the largest behavioural experiment in history”: in a matter of days the knowledge economy went from being 95% office-based to being 95% home-based.
“The result of this experiment, with caveats, is that working from home works,” said Slumbers. “The most reliable survey shows that 20% more people say that their home office enables them to be more productive than their work office. The home office fails only if you have to work at the kitchen table.”
It is not surprising that the tech companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Shopify and so on are telling employees not to return to the office.
Less buy healthier office space is needed
“What is needed is less office space, but better, healthier and more flexible space,” said Slumbers. “I see a 10-30% reduction in space and an average of 2/3 days a week in the office.”
In order to lure employees back to the office, companies need to rethink their needs and make profound changes rather than tinkering around the edges.
“Companies must gather quantitative and qualitative data about how well their real estate strategy is enabling employees to be as happy, healthy and productive as they can be,” he said. “Technology will help, in future humans and machines must work together.”
Companies will be able to utilise the space they occupy more efficiently and more effectively, while at the same time providing better, more flexible arrangements for their employees, who in turn will be more satisfied and more productive.
“Ten years into a real estate bull market, many felt innovation was not needed,” he said. “But this time it’s different, because the lack of demand is not a cyclical market issue that can be dealt in the usual way, by hunkering down and cutting costs. It’s an existential health and safety issue.”
The only way through the crisis is spending money on upgrades to ventilation systems, better materials, new hardware, cleaning processes, data & analytics, new business models and AI.
The result will be worth the investment. “Human cognitive ability is maximised by being in spaces that are healthy,” said Slumbers. “We will benefit from the productivity gains and financial returns that follow from working in optimised conditions.”