Article | Evolving Workforces

Office space crucial in maintaining consistent connection & culture

Human connection and the value of in-person social interaction cannot be virtually manufactured – yet. Mark Curtain, Head of Office Leasing for CBRE in Australia & New Zealand, explores the shift in workplace practices and models.

May 28, 2020

By Mark Curtain

Office space crucial in maintaining consistent connection & culture
Human connection and the value of in-person social interaction cannot be virtually manufactured – yet. So, while a shift in workplace practices and models are inevitable – following one of the largest social experiments in world history – office environments in the CBD and inner-city markets will continue to play a major role in our daily routine into the future. 

Working from home has been made easier and more manageable because the workforce has been working side-by-side in an office environment, so the world’s employees already have strong relationships to springboard from when connecting from home. If we all started to work from home permanently, these relationships would surely be put to the test with less face-to-face time and as people shifts take a toll on relationship building. 

The question is, can organisations maintain consistent connection and culture over the medium to long term? Over time, I firmly believe culture, collaboration and connectively would be severely impacted. To this point, Sun Microsystems was one of the first organisations in the 1990’s to allow all staff to work from home. All employees had the option to never return to the office. In the 2000’s, Sun Microsystems performed extremely poorly as a business and was ultimately acquired by Oracle and the brand ceased to exist. It was fabled that the company’s work from home policy played a role in the businesses dip in performance. 

While Sun Microsystems didn’t have the digital connectivity that drives communication in 2020, this case study speaks to the need for quality collaboration time. 

Going forward, we’ll begin to see some business adopt a work from home policy that constitutes two-three days of in-office time per fortnight, reducing on-floor office densities and creating softer workplace ratios. This will mean the same footprint is likely to be maintained, but with fewer people in occupation. 

A potential flow on effect will be how lift access to our larger office towers could impact ground floor (and up to the fifth floor) rents, with rental profile for these facilities set to potentially be turned upside down. If tenants must wait 20 minutes for a lift to the top floor, then using the fire stairs to access levels 1-5 might result in these floors becoming highly sought after, making them more valuable than the top floors. The real challenge for office buildings in the short term will be lift arrangements if only two to three people can be ferried at one time. Peak periods will be very challenging until this issue is resolved and guidelines are relaxed. We might also see shuttle lifts installed into tenancy fitouts to improve vertical connectivity within a tenancy that exist across several floors. 

As the world finds its feet in coming months, we certainly expect to see a lot of surveying and navel gazing as businesses try and work out the most practical and cost effective workplace arrangements, while catering to staff requirements and considering the broadening demographics of the future workforce. Models being considered are hub and spoke, hub and home and traditional working arrangements – where a scheduled work from home policy applies for a certain number of days per fortnight. 

Alongside businesses like CBRE that specialise in the delivery of workplace solutions, property management and office configurations, the major global accounting and legal firms will be the players to watch as its these types of professional services organisations that tend to take leadership positions on workplace arrangements.

It’s important to keep in mind that this situation is fluid, and organisations would be wise to observe the state of play and be agile as people return to the workplace.