Cain International

17th December 2021

"The future of the office isn’t about property – it’s about perception"

Written by
Ellen Brunsberg

Chief Investment Officer

Of course, it is not an office?

I can’t be the only person who has followed the discussions about whether the ”new normal” of remote working or the “old normal” of desk-bound office days will prevail with a slight sense of bafflement, a pinch of amusement and a sigh of relief.

Now that male-dominated management has realised that working from home doesn’t mean shirking from home and even grown to liking it themselves, they are demanding flexibility too. The conversation has finally shifted from a gender-based issue to an everyone issue just by replacing the term: “work-life-balance” with “hybrid”. Work-life-balance reeked of accommodation, whereas hybrid working acknowledges that flexibility can improve the business’s source of power: its talent.

Let’s start with an established fact: the pandemic has proved that sitting at your desk from nine to six is not proof of efficiency.  In fact, PwC was so impressed by its productivity over lockdown that it made remote working a permanent option for staff. However, this is often held in contention with another established fact: creativity, productivity and happiness are hampered by remote working and improved by office-based collaboration.

If you place these points opposite each other as mutually exclusive, then of course you’re going to get stuck. You will never be able to balance that equation. Instead, we need to put them side by side as complementary to one another and take some inspiration from how they can cross over.

If companies honestly want to diversify their workforce and attract different talent, they need to look closely at their professionals’ needs and recognise how working life has evolved. Remember when what you needed for work was a briefcase with pens and legal pads? Well, today, the go-to accessories are a monogrammed water bottle, one of those ubiquitous fleecy jackets without sleeves and a smartphone.

Just as the backpack replaced the briefcase, we need to replace the desk chair in a cubical as the symbol of workspace.  We should acknowledge that the hybrid office is both at home and within a tower. ”Office” should be allowed to mean productive remote working plus another place for collaboration with colleagues.

As a result, the way we use out-of-home offices will, and should, look different. Location has always been vital to a successful office space, with strong demand for urban HQs, meeting points, and flexible work options. We are now also seeing a rise in demand for regional office memberships, which are already proving to be popular in the US and UK.

Similarly, we may see corporates diversifying their meeting space by utilising both a traditional HQ and a kind of co-working offering, so that staff can meet over lunch, talk through a project in a beautiful, fun and accessible setting and then book a room to run through a presentation deck later on. In both instances, one does not usurp the other, but instead meets a different need.

They can co-exist, and they should, because an expansive approach is needed if we are going to achieve flexibility and foster working environments that really do work for everyone both now and in the future, rather than replicating the model that’s widely been accepted by traditional and sometimes outdated management.

The good news is the debate is no longer why we should implement flexibility but how it should be done. There were times I went to see my kids’ sporting events or stayed at home to focus on a document. Frankly, in my career, I avoided advocating a hybrid approach and just apologised for needing it along the way. Today the difference is in the perception of it, and in a talent market eager to embrace a ‘new normal’, offices that foster hybrid environments by acknowledging change will be the ultimate beneficiaries.


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