This crisis has completely transformed how we work. Only 5% of workers did their jobs mainly from home last year – but during lockdown, everybody who can work from home has been asked to do so.
As construction and manufacturing begin to restart, office workers remain homebound. But as attitudes have shifted, there may be fewer offices to return to post-lockdown. In fact, just this week tech giant Twitter announced its employees can work from home ‘forever’.
Obviously it’s a different ball game for small businesses. And some, like pop-ups, market traders and the self-employed, may have never needed an office anyway. But if you do have a conventional office space, and have adjusted to life without it, what are your options?
Decide what’s right for your business post-lockdown
First off, renting an office isn’t cheap. In response to this period’s cashflow crunch, many businesses may look to cut costs by finding a way out of their commercial lease. But saying goodbye to your office isn’t a decision you should take lightly.
The need for an office depends on your company’s size and make-up, or the industry you operate in. Take marketing and advertising agencies, which rely heavily on in-person collaboration. When some level of normality returns, marketing folk will probably want to resume tactics that have worked for them in the past.
Likewise, for larger firms, an office facilitates vital interaction between different departments and functions. Video conferencing has proven enormously effective during this period, but it still has its limitations. Some things, like chatting to a colleague while you make tea, just can’t be recreated.
Be practical and listen to your team
While we wait for the next government announcement, you have an opportunity to canvas opinion. At Fluidly, we issued an internal survey to understand what level of remote working the team would prefer. Interestingly, the results were quite evenly distributed.
An end to the daily commute or reduced costs can be compelling, but the reasons to maintain your office are just as emotive. So gathering your team’s honest input will be absolutely critical.
Like buying a house, an office space has to satisfy multiple competing interests. Interrogating the benefits of losing your office will help you understand if they genuinely outweigh the benefits of keeping it.
Renegotiating an existing lease
Of course, looking to end your lease is one of many post-lockdown office scenarios to consider. You might wish to stay in the same office, just under different terms. Changes you could propose include moving to monthly rent payments, rather than paying quarterly, a rent reduction or an adjustment to your break clause.
Although your landlord is under no obligation to modify an existing agreement, you do have some leverage here. They will probably be willing to consider new terms if it stops them from losing a tenant. Plus, in the current climate your landlord won’t have an easy time finding a replacement.
Remember your landlord is a business owner too. They want to maintain an income stream and make sure the property continues to increase in value. The last thing they want is a customer who can’t pay, who they have to take action against, or an empty property they still have to pay for.
So put forward a reasonable proposal and your landlord ought to be willing to negotiate. It might surprise you just how understanding they can be.
Downsizing or coworking spaces
It seems likely that many companies will shift to a hybrid of remote and in-office working. So you may still want an office, just a smaller one. If you are downsizing, your landlord might even have another property that suits your new requirements.
The other alternative, coworking spaces, seems a little more tricky. Moving forward, traditionally buzzing, busy coworking spaces may have to rethink elements of their proposition to suit a socially distanced future.
But as always, the providers that adapt to change and provide a pleasant experience will survive. Some flexible coworking spaces, like Uncommon in London, already give health and wellbeing pride of place. A focus on staying ‘well’ in the office may become even more important in the not-to-distant future.