New Zealand’s eight-week experiment with working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown is unlikely to have a long-term impact on demand for office space, according to leasing experts.
That sentiment is supported by the latest occupier survey from Colliers International’s Research team, which was conducted as New Zealand prepared to move to Alert Level 1.
The survey found 75 per cent of occupiers would like to retain the same or similar office footprint over the next 12 months.
“For most companies, the experiment was a success. It proved we have the technology for most employees to work productively away from the office.
“But it’s important to remember that working from home is just the latest of many experiments. It comes after experiments with agile, hot-desking, greater density, open-plan offices and cubicles.
“Many of these remain popular options as part of a broader mix – but none has replaced the basic need for a space where employees can come together to collaborate and socialise.
“Remote working is all very well when you have established employee relationships and a strong company culture – but how do you even foster those with new employees, without the benefit of daily, face-to-face interaction?
“It might not even make sense as a cost-cutting measure. A high-quality office is crucial to attracting and retaining the right talent, which helps businesses to remain dynamic and competitive. There’s no point in saving on overheads if your business performance also suffers.
“Companies have learned a lot from the working from home experiment, and many will incorporate elements into their long-term people and property strategies. But the office as we know it isn’t going anywhere.”
Matt Lamb, Director of Auckland Office Leasing at Colliers, says there is still a huge appetite for quality office space.
“The results of our survey suggest there is unlikely to be any significant drop in demand, despite some businesses planning to ‘right size’ their space requirements.
“Much of the office space that does become available is likely to be absorbed by businesses looking to either expand or occupy a better-quality building, which is something that has been difficult due to record low vacancies.
The survey also found working from home has not proved to be as productive or popular for all.
“While the survey found many employees would like to have working from home as part of their future working arrangements, opinions are divided as to whether productivity can be maintained.
“Almost half the respondents felt productivity was unchanged or had increased at home, at 41 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, while 51 per cent indicated that productivity had declined.
“What is clear is that a majority of respondents would prefer a more flexible approach to working remotely. Some 77 per cent of respondents indicated that they would like to work from home for one or two days per week.
“However, this may not necessarily translate into a reduction in office space with changes to hot-desking and appropriate floor space ratios potentially counterbalancing the situation.”
The traditional office setting also continues to offer many advantages.
According to survey respondents, being able to collaborate with colleagues in person (34 per cent), bumping into co-workers (13 per cent) and the ability to have spontaneous meetings (12 per cent) were rated as key benefits.
Another common view was that working from the office made it easier to separate work and home life balance (19 per cent).
Lamb also points to the positive trend in recent years of tenants looking for offices that have excellent natural light, good sustainability, and are near good amenities such as the gym or a park.
The survey, conducted between 21 May and 4 June, drew on just over 4,000 responses to create the results.
Conversations with company executives across many industries during July is showing an even greater reinforcement that the office is here to stay.