SAN FRANCISCO—The future of office demand is a hot topic around the country as COVID-19 required companies to engage in the largest work-from-home experiment in history. After a three-month mandatory hiatus, these firms and employees have largely successfully adjusted to working from home, but new surveys point toward workers looking to get back to normal routines instead of working from home permanently.
In fact, a survey by Gensler found only 12% of workers want to work from home full time and 70% say they want to spend most of their week in the office. Meetings, socializing and impromptu face-to-face interactions with colleagues were ranked as the top reasons people wanted to head back into the office.
JLL’s new “The Future of Office Demand” report also finds the physical office will maintain its importance for facilitating innovation and collaboration, and ultimately employee health, well-being and productivity. By studying historical trends of previous global economic downturns such as the 1990s recession, dot-com crash and 2008 global financial crisis, JLL points to how the corporate real estate market recovered as the economy was rebuilt.
The unknowns surrounding the pandemic and the potential for a second wave of outbreaks make it difficult to predict the recovery time. However, the ingenuity of employers to enable productivity with alternative staffing and socially distant work spaces offer an encouraging outlook for office demand.
“Office demand is not simply about day-to-day productivity on a task. It’s about collaboration to come to team-based solutions that allow for informal conversations, eavesdropping on a call and getting marketing to listen to engineering,” said Alexander Quinn, JLL Northern California director of research. “To date, this has not been replicated on WebEx or Zoom calls. The point is, innovation remains fully dependent on smart diverse teams able to tackle problems in person. As a result, the office will remain a valuable asset for businesses well beyond COVID-19.”
Companies’ location strategies may also shift, with greater emphasis on a diverse market ecosystem. In the short term, there will be an increased demand for some office-based activities to move to locally accessible suburbs and second- and third-tier cities to make it easier for employees to connect with colleagues closer to home. This could also be an added asset post-pandemic, with the lack of commute being the element workers enjoyed most about working from home–according to nearly half (49%) of respondents from a recent JLL survey of 3,000 office workers.
The past few months of mass working from home has given JLL clarity on the reasons for commuting to the office, Quinn says. Offices encourage collaboration, innovation, mentoring and team building–all things that technology struggles to replicate. JLL’s San Francisco office has approximately 200 employees, and per state and local guidance, has now allowed 25% of its employee population to return to the office.
“We’re making do but it has its limitations of 25% capacity until a vaccine is available,” Quinn tells GlobeSt.com. “We’re not at full tilt or fully collaborative with the same allowed collaboration activities yet, which is what offices are designed to do. But the core staff are back and more productive.”
In the firm’s Walnut Creek office, the capacity is 20% of normal or eight to 10 people in the space, says Tom Maloney, JLL West region international director and tenant representation lead.
“People are yearning to get back to the office,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “It’s been great. Although it’s somewhat skeletal, there’s a great energy and it’s nice to hear other people’s voices.”
Indeed, the JLL survey found that 58% of office workers missed the office, with younger cohorts–those 35 and under–showing an even stronger desire to return (65%). Human interaction and socializing with colleagues were the most missed element of the office (44%) followed by collective face-to-face work (29%), according to the survey. JLL’s Americas CEO, Corporate Solutions Sanjay Rishi agrees with this outlook.
“Density requirements will change and there will be an evolution in how office space is used, designed and developed,” Rishi says. “But history and our latest office worker survey shows that the office is not going away anytime soon.”