Leading international law firm CMS has today published its findings from a survey of over 1,500 companies occupying office space which ascertains the impact of enforced homeworking caused by Covid-19 on their business, and their views on the prospects of a return to the office.
The report, entitled “Real Estate Re-et: offices and purpose beyond the pandemic”, which provides an annual barometer for the industry and the outlook for the market, publishes results from a quantitative survey which took place in July 2020 and was conducted by FTI Consulting on behalf of CMS.
In addition to engaging with 1,500 occupiers across the UK, Europe and Asia, ranging from large multi-national companies to SMEs and micro organisations, the poll also garnered the opinions of circa 250 real estate professionals, while in the investor community, opinions were taken on board from over 520 global institutional investors across Europe, North and South America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.
The report also incorporates a unique series of one-to-one industry with business leaders from some of the leading companies in real estate, including British Land, Hines, WeWork and Morgan Stanley.
The office outranks home for creativity and innovation, productivity, motivation and enthusiasm and human connection. Only 23% of respondents believed employees were more productive or had higher motivation or enthusiasm at home, with 26% stating creativity and innovation was better at home than the office.
64% of occupiers say that the motivation and enthusiasm of employees has suffered because of remote working.
However, a blended option is most favoured by office occupiers who believe that a mix of home and office working is now the best option for employees’ creativity and innovation (46%), productivity (45%) and motivation and enthusiasm (47%).
Interestingly, 61% of occupiers said they would be refurnishing their offices when employees return to the workplace, suggesting that in the mid-long term offices will continue to endure and thrive, albeit in a different form and configuration as a place to meet, exchange ideas and enable closer personal interaction alongside more agile workforces.
However, 69% of occupiers say they are preparing to reduce workspace costs by having employees work more flexibly and with more agility.
Only 27% of occupiers declared that they would be downsizing their office space as a result of Covid-19, with 23% saying they will split their space into multiple locations, 16% reporting an office move, and 40% stating there would be no change. 5% pointed to an office closure with no workspace required.
On the return to the office, occupiers were asked to rank a series of measures which they believe would most reassure employees of a safe return to the office. Temperature checks for employees came out on top with 42%, followed by automatic doors, thermal cameras and a contact tracing app, at 34%, 33% and 30% respectively.
Exploring expected changes to working life, 42% of occupiers believe they will work from home more, 34% think they will do less international travel, 32% recognise that offices will be used more as hubs if colleagues need to meet, while 18% expect no material change.
71% of occupiers (and 82% of industry leaders and 93% of investors) agree that Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on demand for office space.
While 81% of occupiers believe the use of technology during the pandemic has shown it is possible to work effectively remotely, 65% say the informal yet important work conversations are not taking place among employees.
82% of respondents believe that their company will be liable if an employee contracts Covid-19 in the office, after being advised to return to the office. 68% of respondents feel their company will be liable if an employee contracts Covid-19 on their commute having been advised to return to the office.
69% of occupiers are preparing to reduce office costs by having employees work more agilely and 61% say their office will be refurnished for when employees come back to work.
When asked about the factors which are most important for the ideal office in the future, occupiers highlighted mental and physical well-being of employees at the top, closely followed by productivity of employees, social-distancing and spacious areas, interior décor and ambience, and energy efficiency.
Ciaran Carvalho, Partner and Head of Real Estate at CMS, said: “While companies have proven that with the help of technology is possible to maintain business operations over a period of time, almost two thirds of occupiers say that motivation and enthusiasm of employees is suffering through remote working and the lack of human interaction.
“In most industries, the need to interact and collaborate with colleagues, clients and customers outweighs the benefits to be gained from remote working exclusively, such as eliminating the commute for the individual, or workspace costs for the company.
“Retention and recruitment of high-quality staff remains one of the biggest challenges for any business. The office is fundamental in establishing the right culture and camaraderie in creating energised, motivated teams.
“While flexibility and agility will undoubtedly become watchwords in the new world of work, far from sounding then death knell of for the office, the pandemic has highlighted the integral role of the office.”