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'We're Going To Come Out Stronger': Office Changes After COVID-19

The office of tomorrow is here — and you’d better get used to it.

 “There’s this terrible thing (COVID-19) happening out there right now,” said Daniel Holmes, Colliers senior managing director of the office practice group. “And the unique thing is, we’re all going through it alone. It’s the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”

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The Toronto office of the future may be here as the pandemic has forced a new work-from-home culture.

In a new Colliers report on the commercial real estate implications of the coronavirus, the move to work-from-home is cited as a serious test for some companies going forward. Maybe not larger organizations or tech-savvy companies, but “companies that are heavily dependent on paper, are tethered to in-office technology,” the report says.

Holmes, who has been working out of his Beaches home for two weeks, said the transition from office-based to home-based operations might have been inevitable. What makes the coronavirus crisis so unique is the speed at which it happened.

“Generally speaking, everyone resists change. Especially sudden change,” he said. “At Colliers, we might have taken six months to prepare for this transition.”

 But it was not to be.

“It was like Friday rolls around and it’s grab-your-stuff and go home. We don’t know when you’ll be back,” Holmes said. “Some companies are definitely set up for this change. For others, it’s a huge challenge.”

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The traditional office model has been forcibly tossed aside in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

For companies playing catch-up, now is the time for change.

 “This period serves as a catalyst for workplace transformation, as such companies will need to rapidly learn and adopt new practices and perspectives on where and how employees can work,” the report says.

For the individual worker, the change won’t come easily. Colliers cites a 2019 survey of 1,200 adults by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. It found that only 54% of Canadians with home internet work from home at least occasionally. Just 20% said they did it often.

Those days appear over.

“You hear people say, 'When things go back to normal.' I don’t think things are going to go back to normal,” said CIRA spokesperson Josh Tabish, who is currently working out of his second bedroom in his Ottawa home. ”We’ve learned new techniques, new ways to do things differently when working together digitally. And I’m not sure we’ll return to the old ways. Not fully anyway.”

Further challenges await the new work-from-home society in a post-pandemic world. Once the technical aspects are conquered, businesses may also need to rethink their physical space. The Colliers report says companies are already looking at cost reduction and containment.

Relocation decisions are being deferred through shorter term extensions.  In the long-term, however, occupiers may be faced with either having to downsize or leave their office space.”

 Holmes puts it a bit more simply.

“Large organizations are not going to have real estate leases for space they don’t need or use,” he said. “The new normal might be, 'Hey, maybe it wasn’t so bad having Don working at home. Maybe we don’t need 40,000 SF. We only need 35,000.'”

The isolation will bring its own challenges.  Holmes said the loss of daily face-to-face time is a real challenge for companies and workers alike. 

“We’re social creatures by nature. So we will always have the need for face-to-face interaction," he said. "Collaboration is hard to pick up virtually. You can’t build trust virtually.”

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Stuck inside for the duration of the pandemic, workers need to stay organized.

For workers, Tabish has set guidelines for a successful work-from-home experience. They include establishing a separate home office, a daily schedule of routines and breaks, and a dress code.

“You read a lot of people on social media saying, 'Well, now I can work in my pajamas.' Don’t do that. Dress like you’re going to work,” he said.

Colliers has written its own 12 Ways To Work Remotely During COVID-19 guide. It also advises home workers to establish a daily routine, including taking time each day to interact remotely with co-workers on a social level.

“We’re all learning as we go,” Holmes said. “The first 120 days of this are going to be different from [the] next 120 days. But we’re going to come out better for this. We’re going to come out stronger.”