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Physical offices here to stay despite rise of remote working, JLL says

Despite the rise of remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, physical offices are here to stay, albeit with changes, according to analysis by real estate services firm JLL.

In its new "The Future of Office Demand" report, JLL looks at historic trends, current research, and client insights. The report argues that the physical office will maintain its importance for facilitating innovation and collaboration and, ultimately, employee health, well-being and productivity.

"The global pandemic has forced many employers to reconsider the role of the office in supporting business culture and purpose," said Christian Ulbrich, JLL CEO. "Real estate demand follows economic cycles, so we know these unprecedented times are also creating opportunities for companies across the globe to reimagine their workspace needs as they return to the office."

The report adds that a three-month mandatory hiatus, corporations, and their employees have largely adjusted to working from home successfully, but new surveys are pointing toward workers having a desire to get back to normal routines over working from home permanently.

JLL argues that companies’ location strategies may also shift, with greater emphasis on a diverse market ecosystem. In the short term, there will be an increased demand for some office-based activities to move to locally-accessible suburbs, and second and third-tier cities that make it easier for employees to connect with colleagues closer to home.

This could also be an added asset post-pandemic, with the lack of commute being the element workers enjoyed most about working from home – according to nearly half (49%) of respondents from a recent JLL survey of 3,000 office workers.  

The firm notes that the unknowns surrounding the pandemic and the potential for a second wave of outbreaks make it difficult to predict the recovery time; however, the ingenuity of employers to enable productivity with alternative staffing and socially distant workspaces offer an encouraging outlook for office demand.

The report also adds that offices encourage collaboration, innovation, mentoring, and team building - all things that technology struggles to replicate.

The aforementioned JLL survey of office workers found that 58% of office workers missed the office, with younger respondents – those 35 and under – showing an even stronger desire to return (65%). Human interaction and socializing with colleagues were the most missed element of the office (44%) followed by collective face-to-face work (29%).

JLL’s global CEO, corporate solutions Neil Murray agreed with this outlook, saying, "Density requirements will change and there will be an evolution in how office space is used, designed and developed. But history, and our latest office worker survey, shows that the office is not going away anytime soon."

A survey by Gensler found only 12% of workers want to work from home full-time, and 70% say they want to spend most of their week in the office.

Meetings, socializing and impromptu face-to-face interactions with colleagues were ranked as the top reasons people wanted to head back into the office.