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Is the need for office space really on the decline?
The topic of home office has really gained traction. Many anticipate that mobile working will in future play a much greater role – and in its wake, the need for office space could drop significantly. But will it really turn out like that? Three arguments in favor and three against.

Zukunft der Büroimmobilien

For a lower need for office space

Firms save on office rents: The mobility of work re-discovered during the pandemic permits companies to budget for less office space per capita and thus save on rents. The reduction of this fixed cost is for many firms a strong incentive to enable their employees to work more from home and so actually cut down on office space. Particularly the experience with the corona crisis has made this crystal clear – the lower the fixed costs, the greater is the flexibility and resilience during economically tough times.

Employees would like more home office: A survey conducted in September 2020 by the IG Metall trade union revealed that more than three quarters of workers want to work at least partially in home office in future. Eleven percent of those surveyed even want to work permanently from home. So if companies want to save on office space and hence offer attractive home office options, this is unlikely to encounter resistance on the part of their employees.

It works: For many companies the situation during the corona contact restrictions was an absolute revelation: home office works! Workers in actual fact do not work less than in the office itself, and also internal and external meetings via calls and video calls run surprisingly smoothly. Reducing office space would thus entail hardly any reductions in the company’s performance.

 

Against a lower need for office space 

Where would the residential space then required come from? The September 2020 survey of workers mentioned above has also shown that about half of the employees surveyed do not have any separate working area at home. Of course, one can work at the kitchen table now and again. But that is by no means a long-term solution. If office workplaces are reduced to make way for working permanently at home, there will have to a physical home office to work in – and in many cases that means additional living space. Just how employees and employers are supposed to solve that problem is still completely unclear.

More home office does not automatically mean less office space: Even if fewer employees are in the office at the same time, that will not necessarily be accompanied by a reduction of office space. Open-plan offices, for example, in which many employees are concentrated in a small space, have become significantly less attractive during the course of the corona crisis. More distancing and a greater need for space could increase the per capita space requirements. In addition, let’s look at the already mentioned survey again: true, 78 percent would like to be able to work partially in home office. The emphasis is, however, on partially. The office work option remains important for many people, and office workplaces have to be kept available for them.

Companies would have to give up control: Of course, the intensive home office phase worked well during the first pandemic months. And nonetheless, very many companies have already returned completely or partially to office working. The presence culture in Germany remains a very dominant one. In home office, it is far harder to monitor employees and their work than in the office – and due to the strict data protection law, this will continue to remain the case. Whether company culture has undergone a really lasting change remains to be seen.



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