Industry Thoughts

Big Businesses Need Extra Office Space

By wizu | 15 July 2020

The post-Covid business world is starting to already look different than pre-Covid. Business as usual will change to meet the continuing needs of their employees as the pandemic continues. 

Some larger organisations were looking at a reduction in the numbers of employees working in the office. This then led them to considering moving to smaller premises, which could mean a boost to their bottom line due to lower rent for smaller workplaces. However, this idea has already been dropped as the new reality sets in. 

According to government requirements, businesses must keep all employees in the workplace at least 2m apart, which equates to about 135 sq ft per person. This is the new reality. 

The space requirement for some of the larger businesses in the financial district is expected to be about 13 million square feet of extra office space to ensure all employees are a safe distance from their colleagues. Gone are thoughts of downsizing to smaller premises to save money. Instead, large organisations are looking at the possibility of renting even more space to meet the government’s distancing requirements in the workplace. 

Office Layouts & Design Need to Change

In addition, the layout and designs of offices may need to be reconsidered in order to meet government safety rules. For instance, the open plan office, once considered the most modern and efficient type of layout, is no longer safe. Open offices started out as lightly populated, but over time, these spaces have become jam packed. In light of the coronavirus, these spaces are no longer safe and don’t meet the government’s social distancing requirements. As a result, this type of layout needs to be rethought in the post-Covid world. 

And what about hot desking? Will these be able to function as before, or will they need to turned into fixed desks? The concern is that people will no long feel comfortable sitting and working in a space where someone else has been just before them. And these concerns are legitimate as the virus continues to be a problem. 

Working Remotely & Fewer Staff on Premises

Now businesses are looking for ways to ensure the safety of their employees who do return to work after lockdown restriction rollbacks. Some are choosing to keep about 50% of their staff in the office, while allowing others to continue working from home. 

Another idea being reviewed is to stagger the number of employees allowed in the office at one time. This would mean that hours are staggered, so work schedules would have to be redone to accommodate this change. A solution like this could also make use of flexible schedules and allow some employees to continue working from home on a permanent basis. 

Other options include the possibility of allowing a limited number of employees to return in phases as lockdown eases. This would be a great option for staff who have not dealt well with working remotely. They could be some of the first back into the office, for instance. 

One note—most businesses don’t seem to want to make a return to the cubicle farms of the past. That is not seen as a good strategy, even during the pandemic. Alternatives may include reducing the number of desks in the open office, while also managing the flow of people through office spaces. For instance, the flow of employees can be limited in one direction, which works to halve the virus load. This is a workable solution, especially when combined with having fewer employees in the office at any one time. 

Even so, some businesses may consider using a form of cubicles through the use of desk dividers, partitions between employees, office screens and more. However, the trend seems to be more toward lowering the number of people on the premises, while making it possible for employees to work remotely by investing in the right technology to make this happen. 

Cleaning, PPE & More

The government has also offered guidance on how businesses can help employees who return to the workplace. These measures include the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff, touch-free soap and hand sanitiser dispensers, limitation on the numbers of people allowed in lounges, cafeterias, meeting rooms and more. 

The government has advised businesses to create a plan now, before the lockdown ends. In this way they’ll be ready when employees begin to return to work. 

Other Alternatives in the Works: Moving to Regional Locations

Some large businesses are also considering moving their premises away from large urban areas and into regions instead. In these cases, companies are looking for regional technology hubs to improve the capability of employees working from home. 

In this way, some organisations may be able to save money in the long run, while meeting government requirements for employees returning once lockdown ends. 

The Key is Adaptability

The key to a post-Covid business world is adaptability. Organisations that can adapt to the new workplace requirements will be ahead of the game when it’s time for employees to return. Under UK law, employers have a responsibility to keep their staff healthy and safe. 

When it comes to adapting the workplace, it will definitely include keeping fewer employees in the office, as well as allowing some employees to remain working remotely. Additional ways to adapt can include: 

Coworking hot desks switch to fixed desks: rather than a shared workspace, some business may choose to go to a fixed desk plan. Not only will this keep people reassured, but it will lower the risk of infection. Even in a traditional office, keeping fixed workstations will become the norm, for the same reasons—lowering the risk of infection, while maintaining safe social distance between employees. 

Changes to leases: post-Covid, we may see a new type of change in office leases. Moving forward, we may see leases with a new clause—a “Pandemic clause,” to allow for either free or lowered rent during pandemics and other emergencies, which return to pre-emergency states once lockdown (or the emergency) is lifted. 

Cloud-based phone systems: due to so many people working from home, businesses may choose to make the switch to cloud-based phone systems, rather than “real” phones. Cloud-based systems offer all the same functionality but keep all services in the cloud. 

In the end, will businesses need to rent more space? Or will they be able to adapt to the post-Covid business world? The key is adapting. Those businesses who find a way to adapt will come out of the pandemic even stronger than before, and they’ll be ready for the next life-changing event in the future. 

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