Post-pandemic offices must offer ‘less but better space’

Tech expert Antony Slumbers outlines how offices need to change in the new normal.

The future of the office is less space but better space, according to Antony Slumbers, co-founder of the Real Innovation Academy. “It has taken a pandemic to force us to do what we should have been doing anyway,” he says. 

“There’s been a rapid and sudden change in the office sector,” he adds. “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.”

He says the way things were in February is “history now” and highlights two main changes with the onset of Covid. First is the realisation that being in a confined space with many other people can potentially expose us to illness. Second, 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 95% home based.

“The result of this experiment, with caveats, is that working from home works,” he says. “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.”

‘Human cognitive ability is maximised in spaces that are healthy. We will benefit from the productivity gains that follow from working in optimised conditions.’

Antony Slumbers, Real Innovation Academy

It is not surprising that tech companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and Shopify are telling employees not to return to the office.

“What is needed is less office space, but better, healthier and more flexible space,” says Slumbers. “I see a 10-30% reduction in space and an average of two to three days a week in the office.”

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 says. “Technology will help – in future humans and machines must work together.” 

Benefits all round

The result is that 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. But this time it’s different, because the lack of demand is not a cyclical market issue. It’s an existential health and safety issue.”

The only way through the crisis is to spend on upgrades to ventilation systems, better materials, new hardware, cleaning processes, data & analytics, new business models and artificial intelligence. 

The investment will be worthwhile, concludes Slumbers: “Human cognitive ability is maximised by being in spaces that are healthy. We will benefit from the productivity gains and financial returns that follow from working in optimised conditions.”