- What will the post Covid 19 office look like? By that I mean how will Covid change the workplace and impact the way companies utilize their office space in Toronto?
- What will be the impact of Covid on the overall demand for office space in Toronto and the occupied footprint?
To answer the first question as to how Covid will impact the office workplace I think that truthfully, it’s still way too early to know. But there are some clues out there and I do have some predictions Ill share that are I think are pretty safe bets:
First of all I think it’s safe to predict that more people are going to be working from home or remotely in some capacity.
People have quickly become very comfortable with the technologies used to work from home and these technologies are only going to continue to improve. What this likely means is that companies will have a larger proportion of their office footprint attributed to Hotelling types of workstation and offices which can be booked and shared by multiple users at different times. One challenge that this will create for employers will be in providing effective sanitation measures to ensure peoples safety for spaces which have multiple users. In large companies there even may be people who are employed full-time in this regard as Sanitation officers so companies may have to increase their budget for this function.
Another behavioral prediction I have as an off shoot to people having gotten used to working from home is that the dress codes in a lot of work places will become more casual as people have become more used to working in comfortable clothing. Many people arnt going to want to put a suit on again.
I think it’s safe to predict that we will also see more technology used to facilitate hands-free operation such as voice activation and motion activation technologies used in public areas so people don’t need to physically touch things as much for elevators controls, doors, washrooms, water faucets as well as lighting etc.
In grocery stores you may have seen the glass partitions separating clerks from the public. I’m told that these are not temporary they will be permanent they are. We may start to see similar glass partitions in between workstations that are much higher than we currently have but allow field of sight between people.
We have spent the last 20 years or so densifying office foot prints putting more and more people into less space. This trend will probably reverse itself to a certain extent. Will probably see more circulation space and larger workstations to provide social distancing and likely see in some cases a of a return to more private offices for key employees which will allow them more control of their own working space.
So I think that we may have to change the way we express our metrics in how we measure the use of space. I think we can safely predict that the square footage occupied per employee will drop due to more people working remotely but the square footage per person within an of occupied space may actually increase because of the trend for social distancing.
Coworking companies like Wework and Regis may have to rethink their business models and floor layouts reducing densities. Some companies may not be able to use these types of environments for temporary space because of the lack of control they have over sanitation and common areas and kitchens etc. Wework as has publicly announced that they are on the verge of bankruptcy and Covid will likely push them over the edge as most of their tendencies are on very short term contracts and many of these tenancies will likely not renew their contracts in the short term and choose to work from home.
These changes are not going to happen overnight but I think that they will evolve and happen over time as leases roll over and companies rethink their requirements
The second question is how will Covid impact the demand for office space in Toronto overall? Unfortunately the economic impact of Covid is obviously going to be huge. Before Covid Canadian consumer households we’re at record debt levels. Many people will lose their job as a result of this and there will be many personal bankruptcies and corporate bankruptcies. We can expect that consumer as will cut back on discretionary spending especially for luxury items like travel and will delay the purchase of new cars at home and cottage renovations. This will have a ripple effect throughout the entire economy and we will see many corporate bankruptcies, restructuring, mergers, acquisitions and a many changes the way business operate.
Right now there is a lot of uncertainty which always really hurts our business. But when the smoke clears and the clouds lift as they always do the sun will shine. We are agents of change and eventually we will all be very busy helping companies facilitate change.
Unfortunately this is going to come with a lot of pain. There is going to be lots of corporate restructuring, subleasing, mergers acquisitions, downsizing and renegotiation of leases and companies that walk away from their lease.