Hybrid working and the future of the office space
After more than two years, Covid restrictions have finally ended in South Africa, meaning no more masks or social distancing restrictions. However, experts do not predict a great day-in day-out return to the office. Instead post-pandemic office life is envisaged as operating more within a flexible hybrid model.
While we are not seeing any major corporates leaving their offices in Rosebank (in fact corporate rental has grown!), the way in which the office works and what companies need to do keep their employees happy about commuting there has changed.
We talked to three Rosebank stakeholders involved in the property development sector about what they think the future of “office space” is in the post-Covid era.
“There is a huge opportunity for the mini bus taxi system… to develop a short trip network in support of the work from home sector…”
– Carollyn Mitchell from IntraProp, the developers of Rosebank’s Oxford Parks precinct
“Integrated lifestyles, flexibility, quality of experience, personal freedom and expression are all aspirational requirements that are prerequisites to attracting a talented and engaged workforce. This is driving both the quality of internal design of office spaces and the creation/expansion of amenities in walking distance to those offices. There is a focus on individual luxury and comfort in the office spaces that are being designed – with a strong sustainability requirement from staff.
Office space needs to offer and compliment the ESG requirements of the individual and the corporate, include current tech, be environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.
In the creation of corporate culture, work ethic and expertise, interaction in the office provides a platform and a creative environment for the nuances of the skills set necessary for personal and professional/corporate development and growth. Also in light of more people opting to not return to work or wanting work in more integrated neighbourhoods – where there are good transport networks, retail etc.
The work-from-home preference offers a significant departure from our current perception of the city and its suburbs – as it affords a “natural” and enormous opportunity to restructure the former dormitory-styled suburbs and incorporate them into the lifestyle economy of the greater city. Demand from residents now working from home for conveniently located amenities, all within a walkable or cyclable distance will encourage mixed-use and land use infill which will optimise the use of existing infrastructure and integrate these areas with the new urban aspiration.
From a public transport perspective there’s an opportunity to create a public transport system that focuses on short distance (0km to 12km). The public transport system in this country is designed around moving people much longer distances and as such the public transport continues to reinforce the apartheid structure of the city. For example it is easier to take public transport from Soweto to Rosebank than it is from Parkhurst to Rosebank.
There is a huge opportunity for the mini bus taxi system to become app-based (mini-bus “Uber-styled” app) and completely overhaul how they provide services and to develop a short trip network in support off the work from home sector”.
“Attracting employees to the office requires that the office be appealing. High on employees lists is easy access to amenities and Rosebank doesn’t get better”
– Mark Corbishley, CEO of Blend Property Group
“We continue to see mixed re-opening strategies among our tenants. We’re seeing the majority of small to mid-size businesses back in full force Monday to Friday while the corporates are lagging; the bigger users seem to be getting more push-back from staff who value the flexibility of a hybrid model and spending less time on their commute (which is now exacerbated by the cost of transport).
We’re seeing a reversal on ‘rotational’ work with companies, rather than opting for a three day in two day out model for all staff. Instead they focusing on collaboration while in-office which necessitates that all staff need to be in-office on certain days. Our longer term view is that the office remains essential to fostering culture, on-boarding, collaboration and innovation and that this is best served by having all staff in-office on the same day, we see companies adopting either a shorter ‘in-office’ work week with the ability to spend one or two set days for focus at home or having all staff in office five days a week.
Following from the above, attracting employees to the office requires that the office be appealing. Happy employees means happy employers. High on employees lists is easy access to amenities and Rosebank doesn’t get better; within a square kilometer we have a fortune of restaurants, shops, gyms and hotels. All within easy walking access to plenty of safe parking and various public transportation options.”
“There are mixed opinions on the efficiency of a remote workforce but there is no doubt that there is still a need for office space for the purpose of collaboration and interaction.”
– Justin Bass, Director Grapnel Property Group
The Covid lockdowns and resultant need to work from home certainly forced businesses and office workers to adapt their business models and working methods respectively. Most significantly, this period forced many people to adopt the various web-based video conferencing platforms (Zoom, Teams, Skype etc), which were otherwise only used socially or by multinationals. Now that all the Covid restrictions have been withdrawn (no masks or limitations on gatherings as of 23/6/22), there should be no reason why the office fraternity should not be all back in the office.
However, the remote and hybrid working styles has suited some businesses and individuals to the extent that there has been a shift to a hybrid model and many workers are reluctant to return to the daily commute and days in the office.
There are mixed opinions on the efficiency of a remote workforce but there is no doubt that there is still a need for office space for the purpose of collaboration and interaction.
So whilst the final outcome is not yet known, the impact on “office space” so far is probably three-fold:
- There has been a dramatic reduction in demand for offices worldwide.
- Many businesses are reluctant to commit to a fixed amount of space on long leases.
- Workers require are demanding more flexible spaces with the integration of more ‘homely’ features which they have become used to having worked in the home environment for over two years.