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The Morning After COVID-19: Effects on Workplace and Corporate Real Estate

Workplaces after Covid
10 November 2020

In response to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the Corporate Real Estate (CRE) sector saw a hive of activity and change in all things workplace-related. Activity-based working was born in Australia and a series of innovative workplace projects delivered. Business cases rendered significant financial savings through property consolidation programs, while delivering impressive spaces all thanks to analysing occupancy data and shared ownership of workspaces.

Introducing 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has leapfrogged over 12 years of change management efforts to shift mindsets that work is something one does, irrespective of where it’s done. COVID-19 is the litmus test that has truly identified the office-based roles and systems that can and cannot function remotely.

Australian-based corporates were largely prepared for an event like COVID-19, thanks to the number of agile working programs implemented over the past decade. For those companies that had not or could not implement flexible work environments, technology upgrades, shift work or alternate desk spacing are other solutions being used to maintain roles and functions through these critical months of social distancing.

Let’s fast forward to Q4 2020 and imagine that we have all gradually come back into the office after working from home or operating with a much-changed routine. How will our collective experiences have changed us, and how often will we be heading into our purpose-built workplace? The way we perceive where and how we do work moving forward will have surely transformed after three months of virtual collaboration. So, what does this mean for the workplaces of the future?

Globally, businesses will likely follow a shift similar to that of Australia post-Global Financial Crisis. Previous barriers to workplace change programs may no longer be so challenging, given established operating rhythms from the home environment. And the financial benefits of property consolidation programs could be even more resounding, given it’s unlikely to be the first and last time we hear of social distancing.

Ahead of the curve, Australia will likely review and reset our positions on workplace design guidelines and operating models. The COVID-19 social distancing guidelines may force us to ask simple questions like, “Is 1500mm between desks the new minimum standard? Should a clean desk policy be mandatory in all office environments to ensure thorough cleaning? Will wellbeing programs be required to give staff the confidence that it is safe to come back to work?”

Australia will make further efficiencies in its office footprint, as a greater proportion of people are likely to still have the choice to work from home. A new baseline of flexibility will have been set which will be reflected in space strategies. Certainly, 2021 will be the year of comparing occupancy data pre- and post-COVID-19, as well as resetting physical spaces in response to personal boundaries and social distancing guidelines.

Sherrie Jones, Workplace Director – BGIS APAC