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15 Dec 2020

Office work: a new era begins

2020 is finally coming to an end! This tumultuous year has shaken up the working habits of organisations and set in place for good trends already in motion: teleworking, distancing, need for flexibility… Now it’s time for 2021! A year that is proving to be complex, but which will also be synonymous with opportunities and rebounds. What does this new year announce? How to reinvent office work? What solutions to meet the economic needs and aspirations of employees? Smile@Work takes stock.

new offices and new ways of working

A quick look back to get started. 2019: Transaction volumes have just increased for the 6th consecutive year. Offices, shops, industrial premises… the total amount invested in commercial property even reaches a record €35.4 billion according to the Knight Frank Group, which specialises in commercial real estate consultancy. An era that now seems far away. 2020, with its periods of confinement and the obligation for companies to give priority to teleworking, has passed by. If the office rental market could regain its pre-crisis dynamism, demand will inevitably evolve under the effect of the very singular conditions of the last few months.

No, the office is not dead!

Thus, while the use of teleworking was until then largely in the minority*, executives, managers and employees alike have discovered its advantages: time savings, reduced stress, better balance between professional and personal life… At the same time, working from home may have generated a feeling of isolation, or even loss of motivation, but also disrupted the development of corporate culture. This contrasting picture is expressed in the fact that, at the end of 2020, 63% of employees said they would like to work at the office at least three days a week**. The main novelty compared to the pre-confinement period is that the ideal number of teleworked days has increased from 1.4 days to 2.1 days per week.

Because it encourages employee interaction and productivity and is a vector of image and loyalty, working at the office remains indispensable. However, the changing needs and economic situation of companies, as well as the expectations of employees, will inevitably change the way work is organised.

* According a Malakoff Mederic Humanis study published in February 2019

** Results from the Paris Workplace 2020 barometer published on the 3rd of December 2020.

The precious agility of coworking spaces and flexible offices

2020 has acted as an accelerator on a trend that was gradually gaining momentum: the need for business flexibility. In a changing period, marked by strong uncertainties, even the need to reduce operating costs (real estate is the second largest expense item after salaries), the possibility of demonstrating agility is indeed a determining plus. 

More than ever, companies are looking for shorter commitments, with, for example, the possibility of investing premises for the time it takes to develop a project with several operators. Flexible, contracts for coworking solutions perfectly reflect these changing needs. Vincent Desruelles, director of studies at Xerfi, believes that the model should “play well” with companies: “The flexible and turnkey leases proposed by these actors of the shared office could indeed respond (…) to their desire not to commit to traditional long-term leases”.

More than an office, a service

For companies, another priority is to meet the new expectations of their employees, while promoting collaboration and the development of a corporate culture. Improving team cohesion, retaining the most qualified profiles, but also creating the conditions for innovation means betting on smaller, but better-quality areas with real added value.

Here again, we find the promise of coworking spaces and flexible offices: comfortable, innovative, adaptable spaces, designed to encourage exchange, the confrontation of ideas and creativity. In addition to the unavoidable technical requirements (access to very high-speed broadband, innovative videoconferencing, etc.), comfort at work requires the provision of a whole range of services. These can be supported by new functions, such as hospitality managers: professionals, inspired by the luxury hotel business, who look after the well-being of employees by guaranteeing the quality of services.

To meet these various challenges, one trend could be the rise of decentralised office models: supplementing “central” premises with smaller coworking areas that can be used on demand. Giving employees the opportunity to meet on a one-off basis, in innovative locations closer to home, would be another way of responding to a very shared demand: placing the individual at the heart of the system, in a more flexible framework than ever before.

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