Among the most recent organisations to introduce sweeping changes to the “new reality” of work is Fujitsu. Last week, Japanese giant Fujitsu became the latest company to announce a permanent working-from-home plan as well as intentions to shutter half of its office spaces by 2022. With companies across all industries like Twitter, Groupe PSA (the French automobile manufacturer behind Peugeot, Citroen, and Opel), and Fujitsu having made such bold statements, are we seeing the first ripples of a much larger movement—the decentralisation of the office?
Coronavirus may not have been the root cause of the decentralisation of the office, but it has certainly been the catalyst to accelerating the speed of which flexible working setups are being adopted. But the looming question remains: how much of this is permanent and how much of it can we expect to revert to business as usual as the swells of the pandemic subside?
Faced with these uncertainties surrounding the future of work and the office space, we sat down to poll the opinions of some leading minds in the workplace experience domain. Phil Kirschner has spent decades helping global organisations provide better office environments for their workforces, so when it comes to the future of the workspace, few experts are better equipped with the experience and intuition than Phil. Here are some of his predictions for the new reality of the office space.
Phil, given everything that’s happened thus far, do you think CREMs and workplace directors will be managing larger or smaller portfolios? And what is the financial impact, e.g. on rent?
From the occupant or the employer perspective, I believe that increased adoption of flexible and remote working will reduce the overall total area required for a corporate portfolio over time. Furthermore, we may be looking at a distribution of the total area of a portfolio through greater adoption of “third places” such as coworking providers. These trends were already happening even before COVID-19, but the pandemic has definitely accelerated the action to adopt these flexible and remote working practices.
When it comes to actual rent, future buildings will likely be able to charge more per square foot or square meter than they have in the past. New real estate projects are beginning to include a greater number of services in their offerings. The focus has been on shared amenities like onsite fitness centres, but will evolve to more advanced technologies to and even data feeds of building performance.
“We may be looking at a distribution of the total area of a portfolio through the greater adoption of ‘third places’ such as coworking providers.”
Moving past the topic of the space, how do you think the office of the future will differ from pre-COVID times?
We’ve seen during the pandemic and months of working from home that a lot of work can indeed be done remotely. However, we’ve also recognised some pain points, and collaboration is definitely one of them. I believe that the primary purpose of the future office will be for collaborative working, either amongst employees themselves, or between employees and their customers or other business partners.
The traditional desk setup that you envision when you think about banks and insurance companies will recede in favour of mixed-use, multi-purpose, and interactive settings conducive to a wide range of collaboration types. Imagine a space that you can use for a formal meeting in the morning, a dining area during lunchtime, and a scrappy innovation and brainstorming session during the afternoon.
I also think that more people are aware now of the power of tools like Zoom because they’ve had to depend on it. Therefore, the ability to loop in remote participants via audiovisual or even AR/VR will also be a prominent feature in future office spaces.
“The strength of companies relies heavily on how connected individual members are…interaction is required to build strong and authentic connections.”
Collaboration aside, it sounds like the office space will lose some significance in people’s lives. Is this how you see it?
Not quite. A quality workplace experience is required for companies if they want to attract top talent and keep people engaged in their work. My personal favourite definition of “experience” is the events which make up the shared consciousness of a community; the most memorable experiences are the ones shared with other people. The strength of individual communities—or companies in this case—relies heavily on how connected individual members (employees) are to each other, and physical proximity and interaction is required to build strong and authentic connections.
So we need physical spaces to activate these interpersonal connections. The office will still be a cornerstone of community building and a company’s culture. A virtual environment can complement but not truly replace it. I called this concept the Connectivity Based Workplace and more information can be found in an article I posted to LinkedIn recently, which includes visuals and basic talk track from a presentation of mine.
What about the role of the Corporate Real Estate Manager and its relevance within organisations?
The role of the Corporate Real Estate manager is far from becoming irrelevant. However, the responsibilities traditionally held by this role may see a new owner which today still hasn’t taken hold of most organisations yet. Over time, I expect positions such as “Chief of Work” or “Chief Workplace Experience Officer” to emerge that will become a better representation of what it will feel like to work for a company in the future.