There has been much speculation regarding the long-term impact COVID-19 might have on the office sector. The pandemic has, for now, changed the way people work with many offices still closed or operating at less than full capacity with some employees working remotely at least part-time. Many landlords are postponing permanent design changes until it becomes clearer how long the virus might affect daily life and what long term impact it will have on the workplace environment.
Opinions differ on the productivity of working from home. The upside of time saved commuting can be offset by the lack of face to face interaction with co-workers, limiting creativity and communication. It does seem likely that many businesses will re-evaluate the workplace vs. remote work balance for their employees going forward. Staggered work schedules and shared workstations may become more common and an increased use of video conferencing will probably continue as people have become comfortable using the technology.
The ratio of office sq ft per employee, which has been decreasing for many years, may begin to increase again. Modern design trends have shifted to more open floor plans with shared collaboration spaces and fewer private offices. However, with the current focus on social distancing, the trend toward more density in the workplace may reverse as more privacy and separation from co-workers becomes necessary.
Another trend that may accelerate, particularly in larger cities, is a movement by some employers away from the dense downtown districts toward suburban areas. With existing leases in place, the impact of these developments may not be obvious for a while but as leases expire over the next 3-5 years we may see a shift away from the urban centers.