The future of the office
The Covid-19 crisis has meant many people have been working from home, but will we ever go back to offices, and if we do, will it be to the same offices, to do the same work, with the same hours?
Andrew Baum, Professor of Management Practice and leader of the Future of Real Estate initiative at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, led the panellists taking part in a discussion of the future of the office in a Leadership in Extraordinary Times broadcast on 11 November 2020.
Hosts: Andrew Stephen, Associate Dean of Research, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing and Director of the Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative; Andrew Baum, Professor of Practice, and Director of the Future of Real Estate Initiative at Oxford Said.
- Sabina Kalyan, Associate Fellow, Global Chief Economist and Co-Global Head of Research for CBRE Global Investor
- Ronen Journo, European Head of Operations and Senior Managing Director at Hines
- Arsha Cazazian, Director of Global Real Estate for Shearman & Sterling, LLP
All the speakers agreed that working from home, at least some of the time, was here to stay: in the office, as in education, the future is ‘blended’. Arsha Cazazian, Director of Global Real Estate for Shearman & Sterling, LLP, said that the enforced homeworking had disproved the notion that ‘if you didn't show up to work you were not working’. Equally, however, they agreed that people wanted to be with others. Ronen Journo from Real Estate firm Hines believed that traditional offices would be ‘repurposed’ to become ‘collaboration locations where people congregate, where they do business and where people can feel a sense of belonging to the brand and the values of the company they work for’.
As this new way of working extends beyond the immediate Covid crisis, there are likely to be a range of unintended consequences. No-one claimed to be able to predict the future, but they raised a series of questions to ponder:
Consequences for employment What are the tax implications of working from home? What is the role of unions in protecting workers’ rights? Will employers argue that the traditional higher salaries for working in expensive cities are now no longer necessary – or will employees argue that their employers should pay for converting or moving to a house with space for a home office?
Consequences for companies How much office space will increased homeworking release, and how much money will that save for the for the user of the office space? Where will that money go? Andrew Baum suggested that it could translate into increased profits, higher salaries, or third space costs – collaborative spaces in commuter towns.
Consequences for investors Sabina Kalyan, Associate Fellow, Global Chief Economist and Co-Global Head of Research for CBRE Global Investor, said that a new, more flexible model would have to be adopted, for the space itself and for rental contracts: ‘meaningful collaboration … probably requires bigger, different space than rabbit-hutch open plan offices’.