Coronavirus will change Office Design forever.

Coronavirus is going change office design significantly. We are about to undertake a forced large-scale experiment in flexible working, that is going to challenge the very idea that we need an office at all.

For years the way we work has been changing significantly. Not so long ago, most of us had to go into the office just to check our email. But the advent of the smartphone and cloud email meant our physical location was not actually relevant to our ability to work. 4G, networks, super fast broadband, SKYPE, Facetime, whatsapp…. all meant a trip to the office was verging on the inconvenient. It certainly wasn’t much good for the environment or our pockets either. Better to log in at home with the dog at our feet and be productive straight out of the shower, than sit on train for two hours and pay £60 return.

The last remnants of the office as we knew it still remain. Many accounts departments are still wedded to the server room and the tape backup, but that is disappearing fast into the cloud also. Many offices have already become touchdown hubs, that resemble elaborate coffee shops with wifi and bookable meeting rooms, rather than offices of old. With flexible working, it quickly became apparent that an office could be reduced in size by 40%, why wouldn’t any company want to reduce their second largest cost by that amount anyway? Especially if it was more attractive and productive at the same time?

Flexible working also suited people as well as companies. Flexible hours, working from home, four-day weeks. All of this has become more available to full time staff. Whilst out sourcing and contract work has become rife, keeping the headache of permanent staff off the books only paying people for work that actually do, when they want to do it.

In fact, the term virtual company has become more common.  A company today can be a network of self-employed experts that rarely meet in person. Coming together for the complex projects, and disbanding quickly and efficiently once the goal has been achieved. It could easily be argued that it produces an even better result. Plus with no fixed cost, no overheads and super-efficient is there a competitive downside?

Companies typically sell products and services. In product sales, take a look at what is happening on the high street. Bricks and Mortar retailers cannot compete with online retailers who operate with much lower overheads, basing themselves anywhere without the huge property and staffing costs of a large high street retailing operation.

But look at the service industry, which makes up a large percentage of the UK’s GDP and also takes up most of the office space. Do they really need large office space’s either? We’re about to find out….

Coronavirus is about stress test any company that isn’t able to continue to work without an office at all. People will be self-isolating themselves at home, staying away from the commute, avoiding train stations, not flying to conferences, avoiding face to faced meetings…. essentially the vast majority of staff will be working, virtually, from home.

Once this experiment is over, what are we going to find? Essentially any company with systems in the cloud is going to find out the startling truth, that not much cannot get achieved with staff working from home. People are going to be surprised too, it’s great to work from home for longer periods of time, not just Friday.

The office is essentially a social tool, a place to meet people face to face and collaborate, but this can be done using technology too. Does it matter if a co-worker is as unseen on the floor above as they are many miles away at home? Essentially no, and this puts a spotlight on the enormous cost of office space, and the many miles and hours wasted moving bodies around our cities every day at the cost to our environment.

It’s clear that the implications of flexible or agile working have only been touching on what is about to become a large-scale experiment in flexible working.  Do we really need an office at all? If so, how large does it really have to be? How many days of the week do we actually need it? The answers to these questions could be startling, and we’ll know the answers soon enough. The world of office design is about to change and it will never be quite the same again.

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