June Embury, director, sees evidence of the office evolution
Earlier this week we said that the future of office work no longer meant having to work in an office.
With many office-based tasks being compatible with working from home, why bother with the hassle of a long commute?
Take away the expense of that journey to and from work and, for many, home-working is the cheaper and more attractive option.
Gleeds, the leading property and construction consultancy, is the latest company to recognise that step-change.
It has said that it will cut back on the number of desks at its offices by as much as 40%.
Last month, the infrastructure consulting firm Aecom, and Arcadis, the design and building consultancy, both said much the same.
For those companies, and countless others, it doesn’t mean the end of the office. Staff will split their time between home and office.
But what the pandemic has done is shift perceptions about work-life balance. It has also led to a proliferation of platforms that better enable collaboration between home-based staff.
Gleeds moved into a new Bristol office last autumn. It has now said that the office’s ratio of six desks for 10 people will be implemented across its 20 UK offices.
The company says that it expects staff to be in the office for only two or three days a week. But they are looking at how people wanted to work once lockdown restrictions were lifted.
Gleeds currently has some 900 staff in the UK, and expects to hit 1,000 by the end of the year.
What it means for growing companies like Gleeds is better sharing personal office space. In turn, renting additional office space becomes unnecessary.
There will of course be many staff who will want to work from their office, including younger people who are flat-sharing, or those with poor internet access.
It’s also a more attractive option for anyone who prefers the buzz of an office or who feels that mentoring is important to them.
But the issue of home-working has raised strategic issues around the future of the commercial built environment.
In our sector, will that impact on the kind of work that we undertake? For example, supplying our internal and external systems for repurposed buildings? Helping to transform redundant offices into apartments?
It will be interesting to see, when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, whether there is a mass return to the office.
But the lesson from Gleeds, and many others, is that the future purpose of the office is evolving.
After all, if most tasks can be completed at home, will the office of the future have any purpose at all?
The trouble is, with Covid-19 in retreat, the office of the future isn’t an issue over the horizon. It’s only a few months away.
What the pandemic has done is accelerate change in all sorts of ways. How and where we will work is just one of them.