Time to return to the office

9 June 2021
This time, it's for real! After many months of obligatory homeworking, Belgium will allow Belgian office workers to go back to the office and to see their colleagues in person once again. This return to the office will happen gradually. As from June 9th, office workers will be able to return to the office one day a week while teleworking will no longer be obligatory as from July 1st, even if it remains recommended. When we add to this the very rapid vaccine rollout, we can expect a genuine return to normal in offices by the summer.

Let's face it, it's about time that this seemingly endless period of homeworking comes to an end. Of course, technology has been a blessing for many companies and employees as it enabled them to continue to function and to serve customers from home. However, at the same time it should be admitted that obligatory teleworking has not been a positive experience for everyone. A recent survey carried out by Balencio showed that 34% of office workers say that they are suffering from exhaustion.  

It is clear that teleworking will continue to remain very popular even after the corona virus crisis has ended.  A large number of office workers have subscribed to this positive way of working which has enabled them to have a better work/life balance and has strongly reduced time spent on commuting. However, obligatory homeworking has not been positive for everyone. On the contrary, the experience of lockdown over the last few months has highlighted to what extent workspaces are places which are essential for everyone's mental health. 

Without the office there is considerably less creativity and innovation

Social interaction is essential for human beings. It is for this reason that we feel the urgent need to attend concerts and other performances or to go to restaurants.  That is also the reason why we need to spend time with our colleagues in the office even if only a few days a week. Several studies have shown that spending entire days completely alone seated in front of the computer chained to Zoom or Teams meetings have resulted in many office workers suffering from loneliness and anxiety, even depression, due to a lack of social interaction. An increase in problems linked to concentration and irritability have also been noted. According to Balencio, the workforce suffers from twice as much emotional fatigue over a one year period going from 18.3% in 2020 to 40.7% in 2021.  

In the long run, this situation may well have an impact on productivity as several experts have noted a type of disengagement, a decrease in motivation and satisfaction for a growing number of people. Managing teleworking seems to be particularly difficult for younger employees who have often not have had the chance to benefit from true "onboarding" when they started working. It is not unusual to see young employees who started a new job more than six months ago who have yet to meet their direct colleagues in person… With direct consequences on their integration and training.  

And we should not forget the effect of obligatory homeworking on creativity and innovation. We all know that it is often spontaneous conversations at the coffee machine or unplanned encounters in the corridors which are the basis for the most promising projects. This type of interaction is impossible when everyone is working from home. On the contrary, offices are places to stimulate these exchanges and to generate ideas. 

Friendly and collaborative work environments  

For all these reasons, being allowed to go back to the office is very good news. But of course, the office of the future will be very different from the one of the past. Over the last few years, we have been evolving towards a world of hybrid work in which employees share their time between days at the office and days doing homeworking. This tendency can only accelerate. Teams need friendly and collaborative places to work consisting of meeting rooms, shared work spaces and areas for relaxation to enable everyone to develop in a work environment capable of boosting moral and motivation as well as creativity and productivity.  

At Befimmo and Silversquare, all our real-estate projects have for many years taken account of this world of hybrid work. We are convinced that being able to propose effective homeworking tools combined with welcoming, stimulating and sustainable office spaces will become increasingly important for companies. It is by offering this type of environments that employers will be able to attract and retain the most talented individuals.  And it will be by working in this type of environments that teams will hopefully be able to rediscover their moral and smile. The Americans, who massively vaccinated their populations several months before we did, have well understood this trend. According to a study by the VTS, in the USA the demand for office space has increased by nearly 118% since January. In Brussels, the level of take-up has increased by 54% during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous year to reach 113,600 m².

Social responsibility will be another essential aspect which will support demand in the years to come. Following in the footsteps of the European Green Deal which aims at ensuring zero net emissions in the EU by 2050, the large companies occupying office space have started to strongly reduce the carbon footprint of their offices. BNP Paribas Fortis, AXA, Beobank and Total will move or have recently moved into new headquarters with advanced ecological characteristics. Others such as ING, are planning similar projects. The transactions planned for the rest of the year (Proximus, Nagelmackers, Keytrade and many others) is mainly motivated by the desire to opt for innovative workspaces in green buildings accessible by public transport.

It is obvious that the office is far from dead. Even after the pandemic crisis it will continue to play an essential role in developing institutions, companies, entrepreneurs and their respective teams.


Sources: L'EchoVTS, JLL