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Coworking boom expected after crisis

1 June 2020

In any crisis, the office segment is one of the first to be affected in the real estate market, because it directly depends on the business activity of tenants. In the new era of economic instability, in which we all ended up as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, developers and business center owners also fell under the millstones. But after the fight against the virus subsides, the segment will begin to recover first. But it will be completely different office spaces.

In the early days of the self-isolation regime announced in almost all major Russian cities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the premiere of the Call Center series was held, with a seemingly straightforward plot. Employees of an online store selling adult goods are locked in the office. The members of the labor collective are not randomly chosen - each of them has his own sad background, around which the action unfolds.
Throughout the series, the aesthetics of modern office life with its clear and secret life is shown. All this is familiar to many who spend most of their lives at least 40 hours a week in business centers. During the remote work, which turned out to be a reality for all of us during quarantine, this series was a good opportunity for some viewers to make sense of their relationship with colleagues before the pandemic. As, however, is the quarantine itself, which can lead to a radical change in some paradigms prevailing in office culture, and a phased transformation of other standards.

Back in 2018-2019, recruitment services based on the results of the survey found that 85% of office employees considered for themselves the possibility of switching to remote work in the future. The pandemic was a compulsory test of this format for those who wanted, but did not dare to try.
But in reality, as the results of thematic polls published almost weekly show, for many Russians who have never worked in a remote format, the proposed circumstances were uncomfortable.
According to statistics, 66.5% of employees during the current pandemic for the first time work from home. About 83% of respondents said that they work effectively from the office, while only 56% of respondents work from home with the same efficiency. Almost 63% of the survey participants said that they like their offices in terms of the convenience of the workplace, about 15% are more comfortable at home, and there is no difference to the rest. For many respondents (47%), there is not enough live communication with colleagues at the remote work. Another factor in favor of office work is the inability to separate work and personal space at home.
Many Russians had problems finding a place to work in an apartment. A large number of apartments have a suitable layout for leisure and sleep, but they are not able to accommodate the everyday life of an entire family - playing sports, schooling, work of several people.
It is possible that the "housing issue" in the future will be key if the employee wants to work remotely.
But the Russians are not unique. Among employees in Europe and the Middle East, about 45% of respondents want to return to the office, because at home they cannot draw a clear line between work and personal affairs. In addition, 65% of respondents would like to return to their jobs in order to be able to discuss business issues in person. And about 42% of respondents do not have enough simple human communication during their remote work - conversations are not about work, but about personal life.

Equidistant labor

The desire to come to the office at the earliest opportunity and the desire for lively communication with colleagues may be somewhat dissonant with those rudiments of social distance that began to emerge in society under the current quarantine. In reality, most will not want to return to the office at all. Some will be afraid of becoming infected, others will realize that it is more comfortable to live according to their schedule, and will start working for the company not as employees, but as contractors.
About 25% of employees of various companies want to continue to work from home even after quarantine is lifted.
Our studies also show that about 25-30% of respondents intend to continue to work remotely, at least one to two days a week.
This alignment may be in the hands of employers: returning all employees to the office due to the economic crisis is now expensive and not justified for all companies. This means that only the most loyal and productive will return to the office, which in itself will already be a motivation for employees. There is a reason for this: such workers are unlikely to make special demands. Is it possible to work in a flexible schedule, sometimes staying at home or working outside peak hours.
Some companies are already thinking about the shift work format for employees. It is possible that this will soon loosen the top layer of office culture: the traditional organization of the workplace will be replaced by a system of hot desk offices, which allows the employee to periodically change locations to business centers.

Zoom talks

Almost two months of work in a remote format showed how quickly work processes can be automated: negotiations and planning meetings can be carried out via Zoom or Skype, and the same operational work issues can be discussed in Telegram or WhatsApp messengers.
In the future, there will remain a need for technologies to automate the routine and reduce the number of operations where interaction with other people is required.
The active use of online services for corporate communication will help rotate and reduce the number of people physically present in the working and negotiating zones, change the layout, and space. Although immediately after the removal of quarantine worldwide, the implementation of IT solutions in offices will begin, the hobby of Zoom employers and similar technologies will be replaced by another hobby - the search for new planning solutions for office spaces. That is, traditional in our understanding, business centers can quickly be transformed into the same hot desk format or into flexible offices (flex office).

The office real estate market expects further optimization and a change in the concept of office, which will lead to an increase in vacancy rates.
By the end of 2020, up to 25% of Moscow's business centers may be empty.
But you should not worry about the future of the market of business centers in Moscow, the gaping voids of business centers in 2020-2021 can be filled with employees of numerous state-owned companies, which will become the saviors of the office real estate market.
As for private sector companies, they will be forced to save on staff during the crisis.
This means that part of the team will continue to work from home permanently or temporarily, and companies will be forced to reduce the wage fund without reducing the volume of tasks performed by employees. In this scenario, companies will need to reduce the cost of office space. Again, sites with a lower level of comfort, designed for four to eight employees, will be in demand, the HR consultant predicts.

More flexible and more flexible

The first signs of a decrease in demand in the office market appeared in March this year. Now several large lease deals are paused at once. The transition to a remote work format, which can only exacerbate the drop in potential demand in the office market, has become unpleasant news for developers. It seems that they have not yet reached the stage of accepting a new reality.
Despite numerous speculations, large companies are in no hurry to radically change their office strategies and continue to rent high-quality offices for the long term.
One or another company, making decisions on the rental of office space, pay attention to the quality of the building. And now we have come to the most important thing: how the workspace will change to qualify for high quality. The current crisis will make it possible to get away from the open space format. This is the factory organization of space, the legacy of the industrial era. Now, when more and more jobs are intended for intellectual and creative work that requires concentration and deep immersion, there is more and more criticism of open offices.
Such a trend is indeed observed, but it is unlikely, of course, that we will all return to the practice of working in cell cabins, as in the 1950s, but the density of offices will change. Now Moscow on this indicator is in the middle of the list among European cities. On average, more than 8 square meters per employee. m of office space, the same indicators, for example, in Riga, Krakow, Zagreb and Tallinn. The best indicator in Copenhagen, where per employee is 18 square meters. m, the worst - in London and Sofia (6-7 sq. m per person).
One way or another, in conditions of increased sanitary requirements, rooms for 5-20 people or offices with flexible layout of space and mobile partitions will become an ideal work space.


Behind the door of the business center

Perhaps immediately after the removal of quarantine measures, companies will begin to transform their offices according to the “two-meter rule”. It is possible that legislation will be amended to regulate the minimum area per person in offices. It is unlikely that this will be like in Copenhagen, but it is possible that like in Vienna or Munich, where about 10 square meters per employee. m, and even better, as in Oslo or Stockholm, where one employee has 14 square meters. m
The plans will provide for wider corridors, the most transformable premises: meeting rooms that can change size and functionality, modern technical equipment, providing full-fledged remote work.
But also, possibly, the maximum capacity for elevators and vestibules will be reduced, "this will reduce the number of people in the same space." It is possible that employers will recommend that employees use the stairs rather than the elevator, unless, of course, we are talking about an office in one of the Moscow City skyscrapers.
We will see a departure from open-plan plans for office premises, as well as better ventilation and more openable windows for airing the rooms. And in corporate dining rooms and cafes, we are likely to find large distances between tables, as well as notice the absence of salad bars and buffets.

To work in slippers

However, the ideal workplace for a Muscovite and a resident of another large city is that next to the house. A similar factor will be taken into account by companies for which human capital is a priority. But this does not mean that it will be necessary to change the place of work and find a job in the company whose office is within walking distance from home or at a distance that can be overcome by bicycle or scooter.
In Moscow, coworking outside the home will develop, where company employees will be able to work most of the business week and at a certain time go to the city center to the employer's office.

After a pandemic, a classic office can become a hub, a kind of center of attraction for meetings with colleagues and solving certain problems, while most issues will increasingly be resolved outside.
It is possible that in the next decade we will observe an epochal change in the urban development vector. For centuries, cities have been tied to a workplace, and now the house becomes a reference point. After two years they will forget about quarantine, no significant, global and significant changes will take place in the architectural concept of offices due to a pandemic.

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