What will drive us back to the office in 2021?

16 Dec 20

2021 is set to bring about a new hybrid way of working between the home and office, but will 2021 also see a shift towards where we want our workplaces to be?

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2020 has been the year of WFH, Zoom, lockdowns, circuit-breakers and masking up. It has also been a year where large swathes of office space in our cities has sat vacant. But with the first vaccine jabs starting last week, will 2021 see our preference for WFH change to ‘please let me back in the office?’

Well, it seems unlikely – at least in the traditional five-day office week sense. The nine-to-five routine of cramming ourselves on busy, expensive trains has never felt less appealing. Working full time from the office will become the exception rather than the norm as we will continue to embrace the flexibility of being able to work from home, at hours that work best for us.

That said, the vast majority of us will still be visiting the office, albeit the why and what for will evolve. Technology means that it is no longer a functional necessity to be office-based. Results from CoStar’s Q4 2020 UK CRE Survey indicates that post-COVID as little as 25% of workers will work from the office full time, with more than 60% of us embracing a hybrid of home and office working. It therefore follows that it will be the office experience that will lure people away from home working.

And it’s why office location is so relevant. This is self-evident when you compare the large mono-use commercial buildings in the City with the finer grain mix of uses in the West End. The City remains in a deep slumber, whereas the West End has regained much of its vibrancy.

The City will eventually recover, but it does help to explain why plans to deliver more housing in the Square Mile are being considered by the City of London in their Draft City Plan, due to be consulted upon in January 2021.

With location and quality of amenities being so important, will 2021 also see an increase in neighbourhood workspaces? The pandemic has seen urban villages in London thrive as we have embraced walking, cycling and the ability to shop local. Will we see a similar move in where we work, with businesses eschewing the large multi-let office blocks for more local workspaces that have the promise of a shorter commute, their own front door and plenty of great amenities on their doorstep?

Indications from the CoStar Q4 2020 Survey points to just this, with regional and local workspaces representing better investment value rather than central London offices. Iceni have seen an increased interest from our clients investing in workspaces in town centres, with many of our clients also re-thinking how office layouts and fit-outs can better relate to the comforts of home life.

2021 is set to bring about a new hybrid way of working between the home and office, but will 2021 also see a shift towards where we want our workplaces to be?

Lewis Westhoff Associate,Planning