The repurposing of office spaces in a post-COVID UK

With employees being told to work from home where possible, leaving many offices deserted at the start of lockdown, the current working world is one of much uncertainty. As the pandemic continues on but restrictions begin to ease, it begs the question, what will become of the vacant office spaces? Will a gradual return to normality see a surge in occupancy, or will former office spaces see a period of great transition?

Let’s take a look at the statistics

With 60% of people still working from home, while some offices are gradually being opened up again, there are still many office workers who are waiting to see what the post-COVID landscape will look like for them. 

It may come as no surprise that the many benefits of working from home have meant more people want to continue working in this way. A YouGov survey published in September 2020 highlighted that the majority of employees still wanted the option to work from home, at least some of the time once the pandemic is over. 

As Coronavirus has continued to take hold, many companies have already embraced the permanency of remote working, with Microsoft allowing employees to work from home as often as they wish. In fact, by 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month.

So, what implications does this have when it comes to the repurposing of office spaces in a post-COVID UK?

New homes

One such use could well be the transformation of offices into housing. In fact, many are looking at a post-COVID world as a chance to fix the housing crisis the UK currently faces.

As part of such a recovery strategy, the City of London Corporation has spoken about their plans to convert the excess of deserted offices into homes as part of their post-Covid revamp

With an aim of at least 1,500 new homes by 2030, the Corporation has stated this would include at least 35% affordable housing “with an ambition to deliver higher levels of affordable housing where this is viable”.

A new type of office

With productivity pitfalls unavoidable as a result of full time working from home, there will still be a need for some employees to return to the office. And in place of the previous full time schedule, for a new form of hybrid working to take place. Just what this will entail is impossible to pin down for now, but various experts have stated there will be the need for a new type of working office. 

Therefore, rather than offices remaining deserted or being transformed into something else entirely, for many spaces, there will be a focus on substantial space reduction, although this won’t happen overnight as meaningful workplace changes will take a certain amount of time.

In fact, many businesses will need to wait for breaks or expiries in their leases to release space without risk. So, for a company looking to reduce its portfolio by 25% to 40%, it could take almost three to five years for them to get there.

But for most employees, and, in order to justify their existence, a previous “day at the office” will now become more of an event – a chance to socialise, network, and come together for specific collaborative purposes; a chance to hit the refresh button and take a break from the home office, for an all-around better work-life balance.

For now, it’s difficult to say exactly what will become of the post-COVID working arena but it’s likely both employers and employees will embrace a more hybrid working schedule, and, as for the future of those once all-consuming office spaces, it looks as though a permanent shift is to be expected.