Home office has been a two word idea flying around us for years. The kind of ideas that we have always heard of but no one has put into practice. Like flying to Mars or electric cars. Concepts that do exist since we have internet and since a very high percentage of the population doesn't need to be in a very unique place to perform their tasks effectively.
Of course we know about many jobs where the mere thought of not working in a very definite place makes us laugh. The idea of a pilot working from home, or a farmer growing corn inside a house is something ridiculous.
But every day we are developing technology that will bring our work a little closer to the impossible. Just as we thought it was impossible to have electric cars, now the home office is finding its way into our labour system. Better computers, better program, faster internet and upon all: a change of mindset from the management of the companies. An explosive combination with a very strong detonating pandemic that have forced the companies to either change or die.
The implications will be much deeper than we think and we are still far from seeing the scope of it. At the actual stage we are seeing companies adapting spaces, and starting to realise that “home office”
doesn’t mean “go on holidays”. At the same time workers are getting to understand how to deal with less traffic and outside activities, at the same time a lot more family contact and work-children
I am not going to talk about the soaring of divorce filings in the last months or the more than probable baby boom at the beginning of 2021, but apart from the daily work and family, the implication of the home office concept will have a deep impact. The home office idea has the chance to transform the cities and blow up many businesses as other working and technology revolutions have been doing in history.
Imagine for example that we don’t all have to rush from place A to place B at 8am every day. What will that mean for our public transport? What will that mean for the traffic? And if we are commuting less, what will that mean for example, for the car industry?
Also the architecture of the private spaces will change. We will go from needing less and less space at home, building tiny houses; to return to big flats where we can have at least one separate room used as an office. On the other hand, every time we will need less office space. Less buildings dedicated to office purpose being the centre of activity on weekdays and lonely graveyards during the weekends. We will start to plan our cities not around the offices and business centres, but around the life we want to see each time we look out the window.
Out the window... just as the open proposition of Twitter CEO this Tuesday to all the employees giving the chance of making home office “indefinitely”. The chance of a life time not to say: either I
live where I want or I work where I want; but to know that wherever you choose to live, your dream job will follow you. A great power that comes with the great responsibility of working as hard as you can to prove you deserve it.
“If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. “If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”
This is the first one to take the lead in this new revolution but for sure others will come to help this new change. But questions still open and in this new game we all have a chance to win.
For the offices business
As one of the best real estate businesses, offices have been seeing an increasing amount of attention in the last decades. Processes went from owning the land and building according the necessities of the company; to rent, meaning being at all times a tenant, regardless of you being a small start-up or a blue chip company. We have seen even big companies building “business cities” just to sell and rent them at the same time; like Santander City in Boadilla del Monte (Spain), a real estate operation is so tricky that even movies could be filmed around it.
But this business is far from being the panacea of real estate. Burning buildings, lawyer fights and companies under investigation are only three examples of the many black shadows always around the office business. And if this wasn’t problematic enough, economic crisis are historically one of the biggest problems always flying over. Regus (nowadays IWG plc) filed for chapter 11 on the year 2000, after the .COM bubble, and more recently in 2008 was in court in many countries as the business faced a potential breakdown again. Now, in 2020 the industry has changed a bit, but the idea of “home office” becoming the new normal is bringing nightmares once again.
For the companies, many have already taken the calculator and made some numbers. One big point of the Twitter policy, and I think many others will join, is the fact that companies spend many thousands of dollars in accommodating their workers each year, but many of them could just do the very same thing and accurate work saving this money or just giving their workers some extra bonus. This is kind of the Southwest “on-time bonus”, workers received a bonus each month the company had no delays because the amount saved on fines exceeded the amount paid in bonuses. The same could be applied here, workers could receive money to spend on whatever they want (bigger houses, rent an office, buy new equipment,...) as a reward for saving money for the company.
Would this be the end of the office business? For sure not, as strong the idea of “home office” could mean that our need for socializing is becoming even stronger. That is why the Co-working spaces were born, for those people who are able to run their businesses online with less or no need for human contact but with the willing to feel the office environment.
Co-Working is the idea of creating an office for people who do not work for the same company and since the world is heading more and more towards internet business models the less we need fix spaces to develop our activity.
Is it precisely this unique new form of work, the co-working, which may help us shape the new future of the office real estate. As mentioned before, being able to work fromanywhere you want could make it easier for people to find the place that inspires them more and makes them perform better. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to work from a place that is one minute away from home when your company is only a five minute walk. But imagine your child’s school is on the other side of the city, just across a co-working space. Or that you dream about a house in a city and you can find a co-working space even with other colleagues to create your own “working atmosphere”. This doesn’t imply that the workers doing “home office” go directly to a co-working space, but at least offers new possibilities and brings us directly to the next point.
For the construction industry
As mentioned before, the trend we have been seeing in the last decades will progressively change to a new designing style. Just as in the old times, when life required a bigger living space and even many other rooms since families were bigger and usually shared plenty of time at home, the same way will our homes grow to accommodate the new use of a built-in office (or even two). We may see, if the home office trend continues, a slow but transcendental change into a bigger demand of flats with 3 or more rooms.
Of course this is a natural evolution that will take many more years than the “home office” jump itself, but for sure it will transform the way we organize our places... This will also have a deeper psychological meaning, as we will have to learn a new way of organizing our day in one space (this brings us to the previous point and the necessity of “having an office”, instead of adapting their homes).
Also the new technologies surrounding us will help people to choose other places rather than crowded and overpriced big cities. Technologies like the incoming 5G or the autonomous driving will make it easy for people to work at a 100% capacity in remote places and improve their lives. It may sound crazy but the little to no necessity of being in a place thanks to technology could free us from living again in the country side, it could be the counterrevolution not going backward but forward.
An opportunity for the future
For some companies, especially anything that involves customer contact, production or laboratory, the spaces will (have to) be just the same. Life will open again as before and few things, apart from H&S measures, will change. For all other ones and even in the best case scenario, it will take many years to make the “home office” system perfect and nevertheless the need of having space to share, discuss and meet for every company will exist. Also storage space for physical papers, contracts and books will continue being a need, and so will be the servers growing and growing as the communication lines grow.
The opportunity for sure will be in adapting the working spaces to make sustainable the real estate spaces and make this change possible. New words like sharing, co-working or change management will be intimately related within the next few years to every company, as words like flaps, wings and propellers were the trend one hundred years ago.
We are seeing the new beginning of a more suitable work-life balance, and we have the responsibility of creating a better working environment for the upcoming generations. We have the chance to perform what many big businessmen (such as George Westinghouse) tried at the beginning of the industrial revolution but their voices were covered by the laziness of the labour rules and the ruthless price battle towards monopoly. We have a golden chance of making a deep change in people’s lives.