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PODCAST: Why these companies are betting on a future with offices

Australia Post, Facebook, among companies committing to new space in big cities

08 September 2020

Businesses are still on the hunt for office space months into the coronavirus pandemic, a sign that embracing a drastic change in the way employees work will still include time spent in the office.

Facebook is planning for a new 68,000 square metre office in Manhattan, New York, even though it will allow most of its employees to work from home for the foreseeable future.

In Melbourne, Australia Post is reviewing its future accommodation options due to its current lease on office space at 111 Bourke Street set to expire in 2024.

“Putting aside all the negative impacts of COVID, I think in many regards we are exceptionally fortunate to be doing this review in the current climate,” says Claudette Leeming, head of property strategy and performance at Australia Post. “As a business, it's giving us more confidence to have some challenging conversations about how we might work in the future, and has absolutely reinforced how important flexibility is, given it’s a long-term commitment we’ll be making.”

Australia Post, which has reduced its corporate real estate footprint by more than 30 percent over the past five years, expects its future office space may only need to accommodate up to 60 percent of the workforce on any given day due to flexible-working arrangements.

“We believe it’s a progressive move, but managing the workplace, and implementing a degree of scheduling to ensure that everyone’s social and professional experiences are maximised when they’re in the office, will be key to making it work,” Leeming says in JLL’s Perspectives podcast.

Facebook intends that its new office will give senior tech employees a place to grow and thrive together.

“Software is like writing a book together, where all the plots have to connect and make sense and there are thousands of authors. It’s really hard to do if you’re not co-located in the same space,” Facebook engineering director Brian Rosenthal said in Business Insider.

Other businesses defying headlines about the end of the office are implementing strategies that will allow for remote and office working to coexist, including setting guidelines for how to effectively communicate.

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Marketing software company HubSpot is giving its employees a choice between three workplace choices - three-plus days a week in the office; less than three days in the office; majority of the week working from home – and providing either an assigned desk, or home office set-up.

New ways of working

Companies are likely to adopt one of three types of hybrid workplace models in the future, rated moderate to progressive, in terms of their level of collaboration space, says Michael Greene, head of tenant representation – Australia, JLL.

Current workplaces acknowledge that typically people come into the office to do most of their work, but collaboration is accommodated by meeting rooms in the middle.

However, the ‘new normal’ will recognise that focus work is done mostly at home, with a little in the office. Workplace design and fit-outs will be geared more towards collaboration.

The more progressive approach reflects that all focus work is done at home, while the office will be a place to interact and collaborate with colleagues, hence fewer desks, and a variety of different spaces to meet.

“Another model is ‘hub-and-spoke,’ which provides safe and compliant workplaces close to peoples’ homes and is well suited to large cities with multiple commercial hubs. I certainly see a role for coworking operators in this kind of environment,” Greene says. “Still, the only way employees will likely get to meet with their team is by making the journey into a centralised, or ‘hub’ location from time to time.”

The way companies view the office will change with COVID-19, says Sonya Alexander, director, workplace strategy, JLL.

“There will be more attention paid to the sustainability and health of our workplaces and alongside this, less focus on desks and more on experience and the social health of workers.

“Not every organisation will respond in the same way to this pandemic, and nor should they. Considerations over the use of space will be more complex and must factor in locations beyond CBDs, strategic partnerships, retaining customers, talent attraction and investment in key technologies with a view to thriving post-pandemic.”

Contact Michael Greene

Head of tenant representation , Australia, JLL

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