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Finally back at the desk—but not for everyone!

June 11, 2021

In October, EXPO REAL will welcome capital, projects, and lots of people. And everyone is happy. Understandable, because at worst people were required to work from home between March 2020 and the second vaccination sometime in August 2021, with contact largely taking place via machines.

„The Office“ – soon to be halfway between home and office?Copyright (c) 2020 Halfpoint/Shutterstock. No use without permission.

The predictive fog is lifting

The past 14 months saw many predictions, ranging from “COVID-19 has accelerated digitalization" and “new office concepts need to be thought of" to “we will see a masses of vacant office properties." So, what is true?

The proposal of the Federal Minister of Labor under the banner “remote work for everyone" was quickly disenchanted: although at first glance making sense in the short term—as it brought some movement to the often rigidly bureaucratized German formality of the five-day office week—its implementation involves many difficulties. Even though most companies welcome the proposal because it finally provides a legal framework, it is rather understood as a space optimization mandate. In the short term, it is not about saving (office) space, but about offers that go beyond the office at home, also incorporating coworking spaces.

Employees’ reactions are currently rather factual: they welcome the offer but would like to see it limited to one or a maximum of two days per week. Apart from the mostly limited infrastructural equipment, this change of mood can be explained by the need for communication, i. e. social interaction. Important: concepts such as hot desking ("the machine assigns a place”)—which were offered rather than demanded as an efficiency alternative even "before the coronavirus”—are a flop. The "right to one's own desk”, no matter how small, remains at the top of the wish list, putting companies in a bind.

In focus: office workers—and less on digitalization

One year later, the initial euphoria and the latent idea of efficiency have largely faded. However, at the same time it is clear that there will be no turning back to "8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday". A more flexible work pattern is emerging—also in terms of time. 3:2 or 4:1 are the most frequently mentioned weightings for the relation office day vs. working from home. And what is even more: remote work is now rather synonymous with a day in a coworking space than with being at home, because technically "it runs quietly".

Halfway ...

… between residential and traditional office workplaces will then probably be the new geography of desk work, because companies' coworking offerings will find their raison d'être as an essential component. This also existed "before COVID," however, the realization that there is no realistic opportunity for a functional, single workstation at home that meets formal specifications for 86 % of German service workers is growing dramatically.

Cry for a meeting room

It will certainly take years before companies have individually defined the right mix of office space per employee and communication areas. However, the more centrally located and better connected to public transport, the stronger the desire to return to the office. Investors, companies and also planning authorities should put emphasis on these aspects in their strategic considerations. Planners in particular should also take the silent cry for a “large" meeting room seriously. Falling victim to efficiency demands years ago, it will become the central point of professional communication in the office—and only then the much-cited coffee corner.

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Prof. Dr. Thomas Beyerle

Managing Director of Catella Property Valuation GmbH

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