COVID-19, along with rising ESG concerns, has spurred a revolution in the workplace as we know it. To get employees back to the office, office spaces must reinvent themselves.
The writing on the wall is clear: the world of work will never be the same again. And there are plenty of signs that hybrid working is here to stay. Data from Google shows that workplace activity in London, New York and San Francisco is running at half of the pre-pandemic average. A recent survey by Eurofound showed that the majority of EU workers have a preference to work from home occasionally, with the most popular preference being a hybrid working model.
Aligned with changing workplace habits, the world of corporate real estate has realised the importance of ESG compliance and long-term sustainability practices. Significantly, this is not just in response to legislation but is rapidly becoming the expectation of employees, clients and investors alike.
Impact of ESG and COVID-19 on office spaces
Given that the built environment has a big impact on the natural environment, real estate is an integral part of companies’ ESG strategies. Here, companies should focus on:
- Ventilation: Offices must incorporate green and airy spaces, maintain air-conditioning units regularly, and use air purifiers to ensure clean and breathable air; all initiatives that are especially crucial in a post-pandemic world.
- Energy efficiency: Heating, cooling, and electrifying offices is a highly energy-intensive activity. Some office parks have installed large-scale solar panels or wind turbines to reduce reliance on traditional, carbon-based energy sources. Others have done the same on a smaller scale by installing LED lighting.
- Plastic usage and recycling: Offices are also engaging in waste recycling programmes to help reduce the company's environmental impact. Initiatives such as cutting down the use of single-use plastics can go a long way.
- Green spaces: Not only do more green spaces mean less energy consumption, but they also offer employees fresher air to breathe while resting, exercising or socialising around work hours – as well as more pleasing views from the desk!
How global real estate is adapting to change
With leading global financial centres taking sustainability seriously, building owners are following suit. In New York, for example, building owners are being mandated by law to create more green spaces, reduce energy consumption, and transition to using other forms of renewable energy. New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from New York City buildings by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, using 2005 emissions as a baseline.
And, when it comes to remote working, tech leaders in San Francisco are set for major upheaval. In August 2020, Pinterest pulled out of a deal to move into nearly 500,000 sq ft of office space in San Francisco, while Twitter is subleasing 100,000 sq ft of its San Francisco office. Of course, while large-scale, flagship tech campuses might be a thing of the past, it is likely that there will continue to be investment by companies in smaller regional hubs as more remote workers are dispersed throughout the United States.
What IQ-EQ is doing to woo a new generation of workers
At IQ-EQ, we are seeing hybrid working and optimised office spaces take root across the group.
With hotdesking and social distancing measures, IQ-EQ is making conscious efforts to free up office areas and optimise working spaces for employees. This has meant we’ve been able to overcome many of the constraints of traditionally smaller office centres, providing our employees with bigger break rooms and more space for staff to exercise or relax during office hours.
Our corporate headquarters in Luxembourg has moved to a hybrid working model as well and has further committed to ensuring zero plastic around the office. With a view to reducing their carbon footprint, our people are working towards a paperless office, with recycling bins on every floor and printers being phased out too.
Beyond offices: Student accommodation adjusts to Gen Z’s needs
As one of the leading service providers for real estate companies, one major trend we’ve seen in the last year is the impact of the pandemic on student housing. While international students may have felt this the most, the inability of universities to extend on-campus housing due to health and safety concerns has also affected local students, who may previously have chosen to reside on campus.
In particular, with the pandemic forcing students to adjust to a new lifestyle that confines them to their apartment, we can expect to see a new focus on upgraded apartment amenities. We’re likely to see enhancements such as air purification systems, package lockers, food delivery lockers, and keyless entry to assuage health concerns. Similarly, a rise in green amenities is likely as climate concerns coincide with the focus on health. Indeed, with the COVID-19 outbreak, Gen Z’s already climate-conscious students have even more reason to prioritise a lifestyle that feels both healthy for themselves and good for the environment.
How to make real estate a hot asset class again
In recent years, employees, particularly from Gen Z, have actively sought out companies that share their values on sustainability. This makes it critical that employers understand what an evolving workforce expects of them, both in the face of COVID-19 health and safety norms, and with an eye on rising ESG standards.
This evolution of workforce habits has only been accelerated in a COVID-19 context, with surveys showing that while most office workers actually want to go back to an office, this would only be for two or three days per week. This suggests that providing an attractive workspace for top talent will require less space than it did in the past, since it is unlikely that all employees will be in on the same days.
In summary, companies must adapt to accommodate these changes if they want to keep employees in the office. Re-designing office spaces for a smaller workforce, improving office amenities, and implementing ESG values will all be critical to ensuring the future of the office for current and future generations.