Just over a quarter of the CEO’s polled in a Fortune 500 Covid-19 Survey last month believe that 90% of their workforce will never return to the office. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on this could be good or bad news. Either way, the Covid-19 pandemic means businesses will need to reassess the amount of money they currently spend on property vis-a-vis a reduced office based workforce. Given that property costs fall in the top two or three expenses for most companies, any adjustments made here will have a significant impact on their bottom line.
It’s important that businesses looking to survive and even grow during the economic downturn take a long hard look at their current real estate strategy. As part of this assessment, they should ask themselves some critical questions: Were you able to continue running the business efficiently with the majority of staff working from home? How will the current layout of your office need to be changed to accommodate new social distancing rules and safety protocols? What is the impact of those two questions on your current strategy?
The answer to these questions will depend on the nature of your business, estimates of the number of employees likely to be in the office at any one time and how they will use that space when they are there. In Nigeria where power supply from the National grid is erratic with an over dependence on expensive diesel generators, working from home can add significantly to household bills. Depending on individual economic conditions, some employees will easily be able to absorb these costs, whilst for others it may be an unsustainable financial burden. Then there are health considerations and those who fall into the covid-19 vulnerable category for whom going into work may not be an option at all. The long and short of it is that companies will have to take a flexible approach to remote working and accommodate the different needs of employees to work in the office some of the time, all of the time or none of the time.
Businesses must and should place the welfare of their staff above all other considerations. That is why a consultative approach with employees should be central to shaping company specific responses to covid-19 and the workplace.The objective must be to capture feedback on each workers personal circumstances and preferences in relation to remote working. Below are what we believe should be the four key areas of focus in the consultative process. How you manage the information gathered here will ultimately determine how successful your return to office strategy will be.
The final part of your return to office strategy should focus on the office itself. What changes need to be made to your existing workspace in order to accommodate new social distancing and safety infrastructure so that your employees feel safe enough to return? Do you adopt a wait and see approach and only make tactical changes now as opposed to a more expensive strategic refit that could be rendered unnecessary in 6 months to a year? Has the building Landlord done their bit by making the necessary design changes to the communal areas?
New office fit out programmes will inevitably need to be rolled out based on what we know now about covid-19, with flexibility built in to make further adjustments as we learn more about the virus. One thing that is certain is that the office your workforce returns to will look markedly different to the way it looked pre covid-19. The office population will also be permanently lower as remote working becomes the new normal.