One of the biggest revelations of 2020 has been how much time we spend commuting and, importantly, how this time could be better spent to create a more favourable work-life balance. The rise of remote working has provided people with a compelling taste of an attractive work-life synergy – with more time available for work or activities that improve their wellbeing such as sleep, exercise or spending time with family and friends. 

But, COVID-19 hasn’t sounded the death knell for the office just yet. As we have discovered, there are limitations to working from home, and it is not necessarily the optimum model for all business models or occupations. Lockdowns have taught us that, effectively, all meetings can take place on digital platforms if necessary. 

However, while these platforms allow for communication, they lack the connectivity that occurs face-to-face
in meeting rooms. This is particularly pertinent for client communications, with physical meetings remaining imperative for strong business relationships.  

From an internal perspective, workplace culture, learning and development and watercooler moments are also hard
to foster on digital platforms. For these reasons, the office environment runs little risk of becoming obsolete and will remain the primary location for most white-collar businesses.

These considerations are contributing to the emergence of a hybrid office environment. The amount of time employees spend at the office will decline from pre-pandemic levels, and some occupations and roles will increasingly occur at home. This could include occupations that are ‘back office’ or ‘focus’ roles that can largely be done with digital connectivity alone. 

Some organisations may also look to implement a ‘virtual-first’ workforce. While a virtual-first organisation is primarily dependent on remote environments outside of the office, it is anticipated that teams will come together on an intentional basis to connect and collaborate. 

The increased adoption of remote working could result in the rise of ‘commuter towns’, where people choose to live further away from their work in more regional locations. The concept of commuter towns is popular in many countries, so it is definitely plausible this could also happen in Australia. 

Time saving as a result of increased adoption of remote working is not the only by-product of COVID-19. The ‘structural nudge’ upwards in online retail sales has resulted in consumers spending less time at the shops in favour of buying more products online than they would have in the past. 

The rise in online shopping had been steadily increasing over the past decade, however, as was similar with many emerging trends, COVID-19 dramatically accelerated this. 

Evidencing this, Australian’s internet retail penetration rate spiked from 11.4% at the end of 2019 to 13.3% in the third quarter of 2020 – a figure not expected to be reached until 2024. 

We expect that even once the pandemic passes, online retail penetration will remain higher than if COVID hadn’t hit, with people realising the benefit and convenience garnered from being able to purchase a vast array of goods from the comfort of their home. 

This increase in e-commerce will continue to drive demand for new warehouse space and infill delivery hubs, with approximately 350,000sqm of warehouse space required annually until the end of 2022 to accommodate the projected growth. 

Demand for cold storage is tipped for a similar growth trajectory, with online grocery shopping jumping a significant 9.7% between February and August in Australia.
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