The Office is Down But Not Out

Article originally posted on Globe St. on June 26, 2020

Most office workers don’t miss cramming into a packed subway train or sitting in bumper to bumper traffic twice a day. But they do miss the interactions they have with others at the office, a dedicated workspace and even their ergonomic workstations.

A new report by JLL finds that although the nature of the office may be changing due in large part by the relative success of remote working, it isn’t going to disappear.

The report identified four factors that would play a role in the future of the working office: the prevalence (and success/failures) of remote working options, office design, technology and commuting patterns.

With regard to remote working, a survey within the report suggests that while commuting time and hassle is reduced, people miss the social interaction of office culture, with 44% of respondents saying they missed the day to day interactions. The survey also said 31% missed access to professional level support in their work space and 29% missed collective, face-to-face interactions.

Office design will change, the report said. COVID-19 has accelerated space design changes that had already begun to take root, such as the decline of all-day, dedicated office spaces (think WeWork). Office density between 2010 and 2019 had already declined 13% in the U.S. without the aid of stay-at-home orders.

While most offices will need to increase the distance between occupants while still maintaining a collaborative environment, the report suggests that office density will return to levels close to pre-COVID-19 levels in the near future.

Technology on its own will not have significant demand on office leasing demand, the report said, but it clearly acts as a facilitator for remote working. The report suggested that over the longer term, technology would be less of an engine for remote working and more of a driver of a “smarter” office, one that workers would want to be in.

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