Covid-19 And Real Estate: Will It Accelerate The Move To Agile Working?

There is a long running trend in corporate real estate towards more agile workplaces. Typically, this involves a combination of hotdesking, working from remote locations – home, client site – as well as designing offices with a greater range of break out and meeting spaces. The target outcome is a modern, healthy and vibrant space, but within a much smaller real estate footprint (say with ratios of desks to workers of 1:1.5). As Covid-19 sweeps across the world, Verdantix believes it could accelerate this trend to agile.

On the face of it, this should be a very one-sided story. The biggest barrier to agile working is that old school managers don’t want staff to work from home. But only in some cases is it true that office-based staff absolutely cannot work from home – for example banking traders that are subject to many compliance requirements – otherwise the issue is mostly cultural. Covid 19 is just the kind of external shock that can break these old taboos. Firms in Europe, the UK and the USA are already asking or mandating staff to work from home, with the current emergency sweeping aside managerial habits, while business continuity primes over all other considerations.

However, our research points to a number of factors that will counteract the move to agile. Many managers have already observed unhelpful behaviours such as staff not wanting to sit at a desk used previously by someone who’s been taken ill, even after a deep clean. Indeed, maintaining high hygiene standards is harder when whole teams are changing seats throughout the day, compared to fixed seating. A study conducted by Initial Washroom Hygiene determined that a hot-desk configuration produced 18% more bacteria than a fixed-desk setup. Furthermore, the current health advice is to avoid being in close proximity to other people – will this hamper the development of the next generation of higher density workplaces? One can also expect all the negative arguments against agile work and hotdesking as being detrimental to wellbeing to make a rapid come back.

Plenty to ponder once corporate executives can switch back from business continuity to real estate management.

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