Is the Office Dead? Why Work From Home Won’t Replace Traditional Office Space (For Now)

Changes are coming to your office in the wake of the pandemic. The crisis sent thousands home to work from ad hoc offices at kitchen tables. Work from home (WFH) arrangements ramped up quickly around Missoula and across the state.

As the economy reopens, office space is likely to get a safety makeover. Some advocates suggest that WFH arrangements can be extended indefinitely as part of the changes made in the wake of COVID-19.

So is traditional office space dead? Not quite. As companies consider long-term WFH accommodations, a number of concerns are rising to the surface.

Kids, Pets, and Roommates: While definitely the cutest variable, kids and pets don’t understand (or care at all) about your deadlines. Staff managing children, critters, and/or housemates may not have the luxury of a separate workspace, secure document storage, or even a quiet place to take a call.

Liability: Home-based employees are eligible for the same workers compensation benefits as staff working in offices. With far less oversight and control over the working environment in staffers’ homes, business owners are wary about the grey area of how an injury occurred and where liability falls. HR professionals encourage a clear telework policy to help clear up some confusion, but even the best policies can’t account for the broad range of environments in employee homes.

Privacy and security: The Department of Homeland Security cautioned that increased teleworking during COVID-19 has already led to a surge in cyber crimes. As companies scrambled to shift to remote work via VPNs and platforms like Zoom, attackers quickly exploited known weak spots.

During the shelter in place orders, it was revealed that half a million Zoom credentials were for sale on the dark web. Microsoft Office tracked a dramatic uptick in phishing emails directed at home-based staff. Secure connections in an office or coworking space will continue to be essential.

Office Equipment: Home printers, if WFH employees have one, aren’t designed to handle business-sized output. Add in a need for scanners, fax machines, multimedia equipment, bandwidth, and conference calling gadgets and the home office simply can’t keep up.

Who pays for in-home office supplies and equipment? How is that inventory tracked and cared for? In the long-range, time in office will be necessary for staff who rely heavily on office equipment.

Productivity: Some staff find they can produce more in the quiet of their homes. Others feel stagnated without the in-office environment of collaboration. With no one-size-fits-all answer, companies will likely need to get creative about how they welcome staff back to the office or coworking space.

Business Growth: Research by Nicholas Bloom at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research shows that new ideas are primarily driven through in-person collaboration. Bloom fears that the current conditions will, “lead to a slump in innovation.” “The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth,” he says.
work from home dog

During the peak of the pandemic, work from home arrangements helped the nation flatten the curve. However, for many companies, heading back to the office will be the best solution to keep productivity and innovation on track.

The experienced advisors at Sterling CRE Advisors can help you make the right decision for your team. Need to right-size your office to accommodate an increase (or decrease) in space needs? Questions about how to effectively manage an office environment that will make employees feel safe? We’re here to help.