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Report: COVID-19 Pandemic Could Change the Future of Office Developments

Prologis, Duke Realty, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Citigroup, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Courtesy of Zhifei Zhou

By Catherine Sweeney

The COVID-19 pandemic will play a major role in influencing the way future office spaces are developed, a recent report from Castellum found. In its report, “Working Life of the Future,” the Swedish real estate company and provider of office workspace found in the report that those returning to the office have new perceptions of what defines an attractive workplace. 

Castellum surveyed 2,000 office workers for the report and found that employees are more likely to be happy with their workplace based on an office’s location, having the flexibility to work from home or in the office and the ability to use creative or coworking spaces. When asked, “What makes a workplace most attractive?,” 80 percent of respondents said a good location and 87 percent said the ability to socialize with colleagues was important to them. Additionally, 78 percent found value in flexible working hours, 45 percent said they preferred to have social and creative places in the office and 50 percent of respondents said they would prefer an office closer to home to help with work life balance and to cut down on commute times. 

“To a large extent, employers will be expected to focus on individual employees’ needs. Employees want their employers to be understanding and supportive in helping them to work according to their needs and preferences and to find an optimal work-life balance,” Castellum’s research team stated in the report.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, location has become increasingly important to employees, the report found. As more people have grown accustomed to working from home, commuting to work has become less desirable. According to Castellim, the future of the workplace could mean less companies leasing within downtown business districts, and more companies leasing in smaller communities outside of cities in order to cut down on employee commute times. 

At the same time, the report found employees cared less about amenities near the workplace, especially if the workplace was closer to their place of residence. Castellum reported 45 percent said they cared about retail and other amenities near the office, while the previous year, 57 percent of survey respondents said it was important to them. 

“A possible reason for this is that as we’ve worked at home more, we’ve become accustomed to shopping online for goods and services instead of running errands after work or during lunch breaks. If this is the case, it could signal a more long term and permanent shift, which employers as well as real estate companies should take into account when planning future workplaces,” the report states. 

Additionally, 80 percent of survey respondents said flexibility and being able to choose where and when they work is important to them. With the shift to remote working, Castellum found many discovered their levels of productivity to be higher at home. At the same time, many reported that they missed social interactions with colleagues. In the previous year’s survey, Castellum found that 25 percent of respondents said they would prefer to work from home full time. This dropped to 17 percent this year, with more respondents valuing the flexibility to choose between the two. 

“…Nobody wants a return to the eight-to-five working day. People want to mix and flex. What role will offices play post-pandemic? People will want to go to the office for two main reasons. One is because of the opportunities for social interaction, collaboration and creativity. The other is that we need a place where we can focus and close the door behind us,” the report states. 

With an enhanced interest in flexibility at work, more employees are citing an interest in coworking and creative spaces. Castellum reported that employers will need to offer creative spaces in order to entice prospective employees and maintain a competitive spot in the market. Respondents, particularly those under 34 years old, saw more value in these spaces, with two out of three respondents saying they would prefer to have some form of creative or coworking space. Of those respondents, 86 percent of Generation Z respondents said they would prefer coworking. At the same time, 39 percent of 55 to 64 year-olds said they would not utilize coworking spaces. Additionally, 60 percent of respondents said that coworking would be most attractive if located closer to home. 

“In preparation for the lifting of restrictions, it is vital for employers to provide places where their employees can meet. It is crucial not to allow innovation and creativity to slow down, which would make it more difficult to remain competitive in the market,” the report states. “Whether or not the meeting place is a traditional office is less important. What’s important is for employees to have a place where they can socialise and work together. It is also important to remember that even after restrictions are eased, many employees will choose to continue working at home. People will always want the opportunity to mix and flex, so work procedures must be adapted accordingly.”