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The Office is Down But Not Out

Posted by: | Posted 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. 

Lack of a commute is the number one benefit listed by survey respondents with regard to not being in the office. The survey found that 49% of respondents said that “less or no” commuting was the biggest gain for workers, with 45% saying flexible hours were their top benefit. Another 31% said they enjoyed a better work/life balance. 

While a real estate services company clearly has motivation to suggest that the office will continue to be a mainstay in a typical worker’s life, JLL may not be wrong. Predictions around the decline of the office have been around for a while, notably after 9/11 when it was thought that no one would ever want to work in a big city high rise again. But, as it has for decades, the office prevailed. Perhaps it will again. 

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