‘New’ office structure can get employers back

‘New’ office structure can get employers back

MAIN IMAGE: John Jack, CEO of Galetti Corporate Real Estate

Although vacancies are up, evolving trends indicate that the office is not obsolete. In fact, John Jack, CEO of Galetti Corporate Real Estate, argues that as both employers and employees continue to embrace the new world of work, the office’s purpose has evolved – and that it still plays a crucial role.

“In 2021, companies are rethinking the office and are using it as a much-needed catalyst for productivity, efficiency and safe collaboration,” he adds.

Jack says that the commercial real estate (office) realm is currently being categorised by the following trends:

  • Offices as an experience: “Whether working from home worked for you or not, there’s no denying the increased productivity of employees once they feel that they’re in a structured, creative and collaborative environment.”
  • Employees call the shots: “Pre-COVID, employers dictated work hours and set clear expectations for how the office day would run; however, the roles have since changed. Today employers are continuously engaging employees to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable.”
  • A hybrid/ rotational occupancy strategy is most popular: “This has been put in place by majority of companies and remains the most popular way to safely return to work. The model sees employees coming into the office for periods of time on specific days.”
  • Socially distanced workstations could increase demand: “If this becomes a popular avenue for employers – especially large corporates – who want to have more people return to the office, it could drive companies to expand their office footprint in future. Opting for socially distanced workstations could require a larger floorplan and will see a net increase in office demand if this trend continues.”
  • Modular offices are also making headlines: “Open plan offices are largely a thing of a past. These stand-alone temporary structures are the perfect solution for those wishing to occupy their own sanitised space.”

Threatening trends

A notable trend that has skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic is subletting. Although this has temporary benefits for struggling tenants, Jack explains that the consequences can be far reaching.

“While subletting has become a popular alternative for cash-strapped tenants, this option is placing huge pressure on commercial landlords who need to generate revenue to cover their debt obligations.”

Jack explains that commercial real estate landlords are significant contributors to the South African economy and that the larger players employ thousands of people – people who stand to lose their jobs if the sector continues to face these kinds of pressures.

“Thankfully, sublets are starting to taper off.”

Jack says that this will encourage increased demand for vacant office buildings and a firmer floor for the market to build from.

The transition back to work in countries where the vaccine roll-out is far along is a positive indication that traditional office culture might not be a thing of the past after all.

On the international front, big tech companies like Amazon – arguably those who are best equipped and have most benefitted from the work-from-home requirements of the pandemic – have announced plans to bring all employees back to an “office-centric culture” as soon as it is safe to do so.

Other tech giants such as Google and Facebook, are embracing a ‘hybrid model’ meaning that they’re requiring employees to come back into work a few days a week.

“One thing is clear – many of the companies who created the technology that enabled us to work from home during the national lockdown have themselves rejected the fully remote working model,” says Jack.

As South Africa slowly but surely reduces the risk of transmission by continuing our own COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, employers are starting to return to the office.

Make a smooth transition

For employers who are planning to welcome employees back to the office, Jack shares the following advice:

  • Safety first: “This goes without saying: make sure that all COVID-19 protocols are in place and are followed. Put all measures in place prior to opening and make sure that the landlord plays their part too,”
  • Communication and openness: “The office should be a safe space to communicate any fears and concerns. If a staff member is uncomfortable or feels that they might be symptomatic, employers should be open, empathetic, and willing to adopt an open-door policy to ensure that everyone feels safe and heard,”
  • Always have a plan in place: “Have a plan of action in place for every scenario. Don’t just assume that things will run smoothly, brainstorm every scenario and get the management team involved so that everyone is aware of the protocols that need to take place,”
  • Make it fun: “Your employees are there to work but they are also there to reconnect with their colleagues. Come up with fun, safe ways to increase collaboration and communication in the office. Make it a place that people can’t wait to come back to,”
  • Be flexible: Hybrid models are the most popular way to ease everyone back into ‘work mode’. “Chat to your employees about the proposed schedule and get buy in before rolling it out”.

“Of course, you can’t please everyone, but giving them the opportunity to air their concerns (should they have any) will ensure buy-in and a mutual understanding in the long-term,” he concludes.

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