The future of office spaces in the “new normal” has been a hot topic for many months. The pandemic brought with it a new workplace dispensation, with companies beginning to explore different alternatives to in-office working.
Some employers have attained full flexibility, others are experimenting with hybrid systems, and others are rethinking office layouts to suit post-pandemic safety expectations. With all this in mind, what is the future of office spaces?
According to a new study by CommercialCafe, the pandemic both amplified and expedited an office revolution that had already kicked off in the U.S. and other parts of the world. The study spanned four years from March 2018 to May 2022, which makes it a reliable source of data for anyone looking to track the evolution of office spaces before, during, and after the pandemic.
The research ultimately assessed the driving motivators behind current searches for office space by surveying 1,242 visitors to CommercialCafe and sister company websites (PropertyShark, Point2, CommercialSearch and 42Floors). The researchers looked at Google Trends data to analyze changes in the popularity of key search terms for the office sector between March 2018 to May 2022, which resulted in some interesting insights.
Do employees really want to return to the office?
Of all the people who searched for office spaces for rent/sale over the last four years, the CommercialCafe study revealed that almost 43% of them were keen on a full return to the office.
Another 31% favored a hybrid system whereby employees are mostly in the office but are sufficiently facilitated to work from home whenever necessary.
Only about 27% of the respondents seemed comfortable with a hybrid system that supports full flexible working with a few appearances in the office.
What are businesses looking for when searching for office spaces?
At the top on the list of post-COVID office needs is sole occupancy. About 23% of respondents want to rent office buildings in which they would be the sole occupiers. Another 23% of respondents prioritize properties that offer the best value for money in terms of the overall price per square foot.
Another notable characteristic of current office space searches is a relatively higher interest in central business district (CBD) office locations compared to suburban offices. This preference has been occasioned by rampant urban population growth across the U.S.
What’s more, suburban offices have been given a new lease of life during the last couple of years, thanks to their proximity to residential areas and better average cost per square foot. In fact, roughly 45% of respondents were considering a suburban workspace, 17% of which were in a different city than they currently operated in.
Another interesting point to note is the increase in demand for single-tenant leases in smaller office buildings. There are several reasons behind this trend. First of all, the need to downsize to smaller office spaces has been prompted by the need to adopt remote and hybrid working. There are fewer workers in the office now, which makes most of the pre-pandemic office spaces redundant.
Secondly, businesses have realized the need for corporate sustainability and have started looking for ways to downsize their office footprint. About 25% of the study’s respondents quoted sustainability as the reason they intend to downsize.
And though many businesses are indeed downsizing, this is not necessarily an indication of traditional offices becoming irrelevant in the future. The survey found out that at least 16% of the respondents were looking to expand their office space usage even as they experiment with hybrid and remote working.
Which employee demands must businesses prioritize when searching for new office spaces?
Employees have spent almost two years in lockdown and isolation. Now, more than ever, these employees understand the dangers of working in artificially-lit and sealed-off offices. The CommercialCafe research disclosed that about 12% of the post-pandemic workforce is quite mindful of the amount of natural light they get in their offices. Employees now prefer to work in office spaces that offer not only sufficient natural lighting but also access to green outdoor areas.
In this new light, employers must improve their environmental management and commitment to sustainability. One way that offices are already doing this is by growing more houseplants in the office, which can be achieved with affordable, versatile, and portable grow tents that employers can use to create a perfect indoor growing setup.
Lastly, employee satisfaction will improve if office spaces become environmentally conscious and lower their carbon footprint. Reusing and recycling should become the policy of every company today. With research showing that 78% of employees say that access to natural light improves their well-being, creating a sustainable office environment is key to overall wellness.
Businesses must modernize the office environment in order to keep tabs on the changing needs of the post-pandemic workforce. They particularly must provide workers with the ability to work when and where they want without hurting their bottom line. It will be interesting to see how these changes will affect the future of offices and how they help businesses and their employees thrive.