Will Irish bosses reduce office space?

A new survey reveals that 85pc of Irish bosses have not discussed reducing office space in 2021.

Business leaders are planning staggered returns, smaller workgroups and shifted hours as staff come back to the office, but have not officially discussed the prospect of reducing office space in 2021, according to a survey in August from Recruiters.ie.

According to the survey, 85pc said they have not officially discussed reducing office space in 2021 despite planning for a staggered return, smaller workgroups and shifted hours in response to Covid-19.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty as to when our workplaces will be at full capacity again which is resulting in difficult decisions about upsizing or downsizing our workplaces in the future”

The company surveyed more than 4,000 C-suite professionals, directors, business owners and managers in August 2020 about the future of work plans in response to Covid-19.

Only 36pc of respondents said they envisage having more than 80pc of their workforce back in the office in January 2021. 89pc of respondents are planning to split their workforce hours between home and the office with just 11pc planning on full working weeks in the office.

20pc of respondents still “don’t know” when they will have more than 80pc of their workforce back in the office, owing to the level of continued uncertainty in workforce planning.

Despite the uncertainty and low levels of full working weeks expected in the office, 85pc of respondents have not officially met to discuss office space changes.

Planning a return or not planning a return?

“Employers are keen to start encouraging their staff back into the workplace,” said Recruiters.ie director Brian McFadden.

“A return to office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of home life and a reinforcement of company values”.

“However, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to when our workplaces will be at full capacity again which is resulting in difficult decisions about upsizing or downsizing our workplaces in the future. Covid likes to party but it also likes to work,” he added.

However, Irish companies will also need to take into account the fact that many employees may want to keep working from home after the pandemic.

Is remote working here to stay?

The vast majority (89pc) of Irish employers surveyed said they expect more remote working opportunities after the return to office, with only 11pc saying their workforce will need to work full weeks in the office when they return.

Only 9pc of respondents said that they experienced a decrease in workforce productivity since March 2020 with 48pc experiencing an increase in productivity. 42pc said the productivity remained unchanged since March 2020.

“This is really interesting because when we conducted a similar survey in early March 2020, more than half (52pc) of respondents predicted a decrease in productivity if their workforce must work from home for a sustained period,” says McFadden.

“Our attitudes and opinions of working from home have certainly changed since March,” he added.

“In fact, when we asked the same question in our August 2020 survey, 39pc of respondents now expect productivity to increase if our workforce must work from home for a sustain period. Only 9pc would expect productivity to decrease and 52pc expect productivity to remain unchanged.”

More difficult decisions ahead

Along with greater opportunities to work remotely and more trust in our staff to perform well from home, business leaders need to decide what they are going to do about the workplace. There is an opportunity to save on costs by reducing office space and minimising travel budgets by switching to virtual meetings.

However, only 15pc of respondents have officially met to discuss reducing office space in 2021.

McFadden said that many employers may be locked into long-term leases, but there has never been a better time to negotiate rent and rates. Landlords want commitment and security from their tenants.

He also thinks that if we keep seeing increases in workforce productivity from home combined with the merging of perks and management of staff from home, the need for large offices spaces in city centres will be much higher on the senior management agenda.

“A return to the office brings many benefits but I think employers in Ireland have done a great job of merging the perks of office life with what people have been enjoying about working from home, for example: flexi-hours, a relaxed atmosphere and avoidance of busy commute times.

“In terms of recruitment cost savings, employers have also done a phenomenal job at transitioning from a traditional interview and onboarding process of new staff to a remote process. The feedback from jobseekers has been very positive too.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 1 September, 2020