Are offices an obsolete concept?

office workers on chairs

The recent pandemic has meant that businesses have to show extreme agility and adapt to staff working remotely. For some, remote working was already integral to their business operation.

For others, innovations were quickly put into place, in order to allow virtual meetings, online training and alternative ways of doing business. Working from home has proven in many cases to be efficient, productive and successful. Throughout the lockdown, sales were completed, customers were taken care of and business, for the most part continued as per usual.

Now that we are emerging from quarantine, people are asking - do we really need offices? 

It is a valid question as indeed, we have survived during the transition. However, now, upon returning to our workplaces, we are realising that something was missing while working from home. Offices are not just four walls and workstations, they are the place where we make connections, create in collaboration and maintain a flow of ideas, simply not achievable if you are not in the same space to brainstorm and exchange insights.

For many people today, especially in sales and marketing their job is to “create” as opposed to “do” which means they are more likely to do a better job when they are around others for the creation process. Daily work is characterised by creativity, problem-solving and developing new ideas and resources — which cannot be done easily on a computer. This is true in professions such as legal, finance and consulting. The nature of these jobs makes it easier to work closely with colleagues to bounce ideas off each other and to move quickly with administrative tasks which is a benefit to clients and customers. Continuous learning, continuous teaching and continuous innovation are intrinsic to teamwork, and output is judged on quality, not quantity and being in close proximity makes these efforts more powerful.

From a mental health standpoint, we are confident that employees will value in-person communication more than ever and want to return to their workplace. Some workers have felt very isolated since the lockdown. The good option, while the dust settles, is to allow employees to work remotely and to show up in person only on an as-needed basis. This makes office meeting rooms an essential part of how to do business. Social distancing and cleaning protocols will be critical in the coming months but there are easier ways to achieve this. Working in shifts and the re-configuration of floor plans is an answer. While a true reopening — something that might resemble a bustling Auckland pre-COVID — may not surface until there is a vaccine or effective therapeutics, we remain confident that the modern workplace will survive intact even with new remote capabilities. We are sure that even with the sudden shift in work environments that this trend will not become permanent in any significant way, as working as a team is critical in so many fields. In short, we don’t think that working from home will become a major craze that will impair office demand and property values. The socialisation and collaboration of the traditional office is something that cannot be replicated no matter how savvy the technology.