Hybrid office evolution
Rethinking your office amenities

The recent level 4 and level 3 COVID-19 restrictions in Auckland once again saw tens of thousands of office-based staff required to work from home since mid-August. 2021.

High levels of digital technology and IT networking enabled most corporates and their employees to switch relatively seamlessly to a workplace model which saw few executive-level staff working from the head office environment while the bulk of company personnel pivoted to a work-from-home model.

With the end of 2021 close, many corporate tenants are now considering whether to even have the bulk of their staff back on-site this year – if they are allowed to under any pending change in New Zealand’s ‘traffic light’ response programme.

That leaves tenants, their human resource teams, property managers, and commercial property owners facing up to what will be a radically different workplace environment in 2022 and beyond.

Internationally, with much of the western world coming out of their Delta outbreaks well ahead of New Zealand, new workplace habits have been established. That dynamic leaves New Zealand’s commercial property sector well positioned to observe what’s working internationally, what’s not working, and how the office workplace environment has changed.

Anecdotally in feedback from extensive discussions with our client databases across Auckland, we are noting that:

  1. A majority of corporate staff are indicating they are unwilling to return to their traditional place of work unless all colleagues are double vaccinated
  2. A majority of staff have indicated a preference to now work from home at least two days a week - with some even choosing to work from home permanently if possible.

Emanating from this research, the Barfoot & Thompson Commercial leasing team has seen three new office workplaces emerging in what has been a groundswell shift in workplace habits under the umbrella paradigm of ‘no one size fits all’, resulting in:

The hybrid office
Comprising a percentage of employees who work in the traditional office environment and others who work from home. The option of where to work allows freedom over when and where work is completed.

The hybrid office gives employees the choice to work full-time in the office, work full-time from home, or divide their time between both options. This work environment is becoming more and more common than ever before, and it’s projected that more than 50 percent of businesses worldwide will expand their work-from-home policies in the next year.

Under this scenario, hot-desking will become more prevalent, and there could well be a re-alignment of floorspace requirements by some larger tenants.

A hybrid work model accommodates all employees based on their needs and desires. It grants more autonomy to employees to fit work around the other parts of their lives, rather than the other way around.

A hybrid model also balances collaboration while in the office environment, while simultaneously reducing stress by commuting less. Most companies now operate in an open-floor office layout - enabling team building and collaboration when used moderately.

Satellite offices
Smaller than headquarter offices, satellite offices could be located outside of the Auckland central business district. In Auckland for example, we could see corporates operating a few satellite offices on the North Shore and South Auckland.

Small groups of employees can work in these offices, preserving company culture and forging stronger relationships. Satellite offices also benefit businesses looking to expand – either nationally and internationally – and seek partnerships with other corporations.

Thinking laterally, companies operating a blended hybrid/satellite office model requiring a smaller floorplate could look at their own geographic location and partner with similar-minded companies.

Essentially this could see Company A with a head office in Manukau operate a satellite office in Albany – utilising space in the head office of Company B based in Albany, but now additionally employing staff working in a satellite office in Manukau, occupying spare floor space under the auspices of company A.

Co-working space
Where individuals or groups from different companies work independently in the same, usually open plan, space. Co-working spaces have the same amenities and features you’d find in a traditional office, but offer greater flexibility since the tenant doesn’t need to sign a long-term lease. It’s a trend that dates back to Berlin in 1995 before gaining momentum in San Francisco a decade later.

Co-working office agencies have refurbished older character buildings into shared work sites – bringing down vacancy rates within Auckland’s central business district and city-fringe locations. An empty co-working space is generally easier for tenants than an entire empty floor of office space.

The co-working space trend will never erase demand for traditional offices entirely - with larger corporates still requiring a ‘headquarters building’ to encompass the breadth of their activities, departmentalised operations, and large staff complements.

A key lesson we’ve learned from the commercial property sector’s pandemic response and the subsequent level 3 and 4 workplace restrictions imposed on Aucklanders, is that technology will continue to play a crucial role in how and where business is conducted in Auckland’s commercial office environment.

Without the advent of video-conferencing platforms, and cloud file-sharing services, for example, the shift to working from home and satellite offices would not have been possible. In the same perspective, technology will also shape the future of commercial office spaces to improve the tenant’s occupancy experience.

Among the innovations already being mooted in North America for example are installing a commercial intercom system that allows tenants and their employees to enter the building hands-free - preventing the spread of germs via high-contact surfaces like door handles. Cloud-based intercom systems for example allow tenants to open doors from their smartphones rather than touching the door.

Next, we could well see companies limiting the number of people allowed in an office space at one time through the introduction of an app-based reservation system allowing for real-time tracking of occupancy levels.