Boosted evolution towards a more hybrid way of working

Tim Harrup

PRE: What is your mission at Colliers International? Edouard Housez: My title is Associate Director - Real Estate and it is my aim to assist and accompany clients in developing their real estate strategies. We will advise them and represent them, and become an integral part of their real estate team. This can be for transactional operations, for decisions relative to ‘stay or go’, or in terms of optimizing their existing real estate.

During these difficult times, have the needs of occupants changed in terms of offices? There is a great deal of questioning and of uncertainty. But I would not call it a revolution, because the changes we are seeing had already started before the crisis. What the current crisis is doing, is to speed things up. Companies are reflecting on more flexibility, more efficiency. There is a general trend towards a reduction in office space, but above all towards a hybrid system. This means moving away from a ‘nine-to-five in the office’ model, towards a higher degree of home-working. And companies are going to re-think how their offices are laid out, moving to much more collaborative space. This is because people will be coming to the office above all to communicate, to collaborate with each other.

Everything which is the traditional ‘back office’ work with which they are charged does not need to be done alone at a desk, but can be done at home. But there will also be a solution which is between the home and the office. Satellite offices in decentralized areas, perhaps co-working solutions with the players active in this domain. But there is also ‘on the go’ – in public transport, in airports, in stations. So each employee will need to be given the equipment they need to establish the best and most effective solution for themselves. Each company will have its own priorities, its own imperatives, which means there is not just one ready made miracle solution. And there is no right or wrong solution either.

Is there a structural reduction in office usage in the market? I wouldn’t go as far as that. I don’t think companies are going to make large reductions in the number of square meters they occupy, but re-think these square meters. And I don’t think they are going to be thinking about ‘post-covid’ but ‘with covid’. What is the relationship we will have with work, and with the workspace? There may be a smaller headquarters building, perhaps, with satellite offices. And the office at home will become an extension of these other places. In the past, there has always been a very clear distinction between the working space (the office) and the private space (the home). Today there will be more grey areas. And this will lead to a shared taking of responsibility when it comes to working from home. So not a huge reduction in traditional office space. I think that the concept of open space will remain (covid-permitting) but that companies will have to think a bit more about how to make this open space – which was just that in the past – more of a collaborative space. Collaboration from home is very difficult.

Is there going to be any impact on office acquisition or rental prices? No major impact, but as take-up has been going down this will put pressure on prices. We are in a market where there are very large price differences according to the quality of the building. Grade A buildings in the best locations still command top prices. Less qualitative and decentralised buildings will continue to find it difficult to take their place in the market and will have to offer competitive prices. The market is becoming much more tenant friendly.

To finish, is there a typical question that clients ask now, which they didn’t ask before? Well I’m not sure that they didn’t ask this before, but the typical question is ‘what are the others doing?’