Life in city centres is likely to become a lot livelier after lockdown. No longer will bars and restaurants prioritise their makeshift takeaway business and cafe’s might just ask you to stay rather than leave upon serving you a drink. The list goes on.
Yet one aspect of the pre-pandemic world which may not return as we know it is where we work, especially if you have an office job. Having a look around Sheffield city centre, particularly in proximity to Leopold Square and the Peace Gardens you can a see large number of buildings of all shapes and sizes advertising ‘OFFICES TO LET’.
Just one month short of it being an entire year since many people stopped commuting to their offices following the instructions from the government, the possibility of us actually sitting around the same desk next to the same colleague appear to be uncertain.
This might be due to one of the huge successes of the pandemic, that is, the ease in which companies have adapted to working from home. Given the costs of rent and overheads for companies, ranging from filling the staff kitchen to maintaining utilities, it is clear to see why the lure of not returning to an office may be very tempting for some.
Results of a survey from 958 company directors showed that close to 60% of them would consider reducing their use of office-based workspaces after the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of reasons behind this change in attitude have been given, however the caution around spread of infection following the outbreak of Coronavirus appears to be the driving force. Another reason is that working from home is more effective, scepticism around using public transport and a number of companies downsizing.
With many companies already ceasing their operation from a purpose built office, these statistics could be a damning verdict on the short-term future of office lets.
Some of Sheffield’s experts in commercial real estate, although acknowledging the number of enquiries for offices had dropped currently, are confident that once restrictions start to ease business owners will seek out office spaces increasingly.
Yuvraj Rana, the director of Office Hunt Limited, admitted enquiries had gone down during the pandemic. In spite of this, his business, one which he founded in 2018 to help “businesses of all sizes find suitable and affordable workspaces to fit their budgets and needs” has continued to perform well during this period.
Mark Holmes, a chartered surveyor for Crosthwaite Commercial Limited, has also commented that business has been a bit quieter for them since the outbreak, but when things get back to normal with greater certainty they hope to see a surge in activity.
The perceived lack of certainty, according to Mr Rana is a partly a result of companies not receiving enough support from the council or government to provide assurances regarding their rent. Despite this, he has found many discussions with clients to be more fruitful.
He attributed this to people not shopping around as much, saying that currently up to 95% of clients who use his services have a concrete interest in trying to locate an office and organise a viewing, meaning his strike rate has improved significantly.
Mr Rana actually set up his business as a work-from-home venture when he first started, and has cited the mental strain of running a business within the confines of his own house.
“I don’t think it’s good for people mentally. I have started my business from home, and I know the effects, bad effects of working from home. I am a hundred percent sure that people will be out of their homes as soon as the pandemic is over.”
The toll on people’s mental health as a result of this since March 2020 has brought about mixed results, according to a report carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health, more than fifty percent of people found it harder to “switch off” or take regular breaks whilst working from home. More alarmingly, over two thirds said that they felt less connected with their colleagues [credit: RSPH].
Mr Holmes echoed these findings, suggesting improved communication between colleagues will be a huge driving force for businesses to return to the office.
“For efficiency and productivity, I do think the majority is best served from having people in the office, even if it is just for sharing ideas and especially at the junior level of things, for mentoring guidance and the osmosis of ideas coming in.”
Both Mr Rana and Mr Holmes remain confident that any changes in the market on the whole will be relatively minor.
Anybody who is suffering with their mental health whilst working from home can visit the NHS link below.