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Covid-19 office market impact

27 April 2020

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Covid-19 and the Belfast office market

Covid-19 has affected work life in way we would never have anticipated. This article has been written during lockdown and like the majority of office occupiers we are looking forward to the opportunity of re-opening the office and getting back into our regular business pattern, but what will office life feel like in the aftermath of the pandemic and how will this affect design? Will home working be the new norm? How will office demand be affected? Will we ever shake hands again?

What will office life look like?

Post Covid-19 everyone will be painfully aware of their personal bubble. We are being advised during lockdown that if we have to meet someone we should stay 2m apart. This habit will take some time to shake and may be the way we interact for some time to come well after formal lockdown restrictions are lifted.

This will affect office life in several ways. In China for example our colleagues in Beijing are noting that office requirements are changing as a result of social distancing requirements. Tenants are demanding office layouts with more generous corridor space and increased floor area requirements to permit greater spacing between workstations. Sanitisation stations, upgraded cleaning and maintenance, screens, cellular offices, staggered working hours are increasingly important to safeguard the health of employees.

Cushman & Wakefield in the Netherlands have introduced the 6 feet office and are applying “The 6 feet rule” to the office environment. This includes workstations spaced further apart to allow movement of staff around desks without encroaching on an individual’s 6 ft circle. Staff are encouraged to walk around the office in a clockwise fashion and to avoid crowding into lifts to create the virus safe environment.

You can find out more about the 6 Feet Office at https://www.cushmanwakefield.com/en/netherlands/six-feet-office

Will home working be the new norm?

We have all been forced to work from home during lockdown. Some have adapted to this very well others are not enjoying the experience. We have found that every office worker is different. The fortunate ones with a spare room are best placed to get the most out of home working. Most are working from a kitchen table and with partners, kids and pets all in lockdown this has its challenges.

There is a massive marketing push from the technology sector to encourage home working, with video conferencing and cloud sharing which has been a significant help for business to operate during the crisis.

However the fact that technology has managed to rise to the challenge of remote working does not mean the end of the office as we know it. Increasingly our colleagues worldwide and our occupational tenant clients are telling us that the majority miss the social interaction of the office and importantly the creative dynamism that adds value to business when people work together.

Certainly for some home working will be the future either permanently or part time, but for the majority a return to a traditional office environment will be warmly welcomed.

How will office demand be affected?

This is the question we are being asked most often at this time. Landlords want to know what the market will look like post lockdown.

This pandemic is an unprecedented event, therefore it is impossible to accurately predict the specific outcomes. No-one has a crystal ball but as we have highlighted above we can look to countries who are further along this process than Northern Ireland to try and understand the future demand profile.

Home working is an obvious threat to office occupational demand however this experiment has arguably done more to prove humans are fundamentally social and thrive on interaction than undermine the traditional office environment.

By contrast we see the biggest impact will be on employee welfare and an increased focus on physical and mental wellbeing in the office environment. This could mean an end to cramped desk pod environments, tight circulation space and limited staff facilities. Never before have employers been more aware of the importance of keeping staff safe and well, and the office of the future will be designed around this. Fundamentally this means lower occupation ratios and larger space requirements per employee which helps support and grow demand.

Business failure as a result of the post pandemic economic decline is unfortunately a reality however there remains reason to be optimistic. The Belfast office market was in a healthy state before the crisis and many businesses have adapted well. The future office market certainly has some threats but alongside this are opportunities and with every business keen to get back to work and restart the economy we are eager to work with our clients to exploit these opportunities and minimise the risks.

Will we ever shake hands again?

The humble handshake has been around for thousands of years. Historians tell us it may have originated as a gesture that you are not carrying a weapon in your right hand. It has certainly become the standard greeting in business.

According to Gregory Poland an infectious disease expert in the US “When you extend your hand, you’re extending a bioweapon”. This view might be more prevalent nowadays and for some time to come.

If a handshake is offered and rejected this would have caused an uncomfortable feeling of rejection. For now an offered handshake may be an exception to the rule.

© Cushman & Wakefield 2020. This information contained in this briefing is for information purposes only. Accordingly, the information contained herein should not be relied upon or used as a basis for any business decision. Any such decision should be based only on suitable and specific professional advice. This briefing is not directed to, or intended for distribution or use in, any jurisdiction where such distribution or use would be prohibited. To the extent permitted by law, Cushman & Wakefield accepts no duty of care and cannot be held responsible or liable for any loss or damages which may be incurred by any person (directly or indirectly) as a consequence of relying or otherwise acting on the information contained in this briefing.

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