What Becomes of the Budapest Office?

Office Market

Our Special Report looking into the office equipment market leads inevitably to one of the most debated issues since the first lockdown last March forced the majority of those not involved in manufacturing to work from home: what becomes of the modern office?

There have been claims made with absolute certainty that the office as we know it is dead, that the WFH orders have opened a Pandora’s Box. Stripped of the necessity for the twice daily commute, workers have proved they are not only just as effective working in a home environment, but are often more productive: they will not want to return to the office. Employers, who have finally overcome their doubts about whether staff can be trusted away from the direct glare of their managers, will equally welcome the chance to lose the overheads that go with a downtown Budapest office [insert your city of choice here, this is a location-neutral argument].

Just as insistently, developers and facility managers have declared that tenants, far from looking to off-load office space, can’t wait to get back to the work place, once health protocols allow it. They point out that the office is an essential element of brand building and vital for team work, that you can’t create or maintain a company culture when, rather than one central office, your staff are spread across 100 home offices.

As so frequently is the case, the reality will lie somewhere between those two extremes. Anyway, the more immediate question is not what will happen to the office, but when. The long-term nature of most leases mean few businesses will have the opportunity to downsize their space requirements until the renewal date approaches. Many multinationals continue to operate a “work where you want” policy, or apply a rotational approach to who is in the office, in order to maintain social distancing, although “physical distancing” is apparently the preferred term now.

Even that change in terminology points to the fact we are all learning how to cope with the coronavirus as we go along. What started as a health disaster became an economic emergency, and in the wake of that could yet become a mental health crisis. Proponents of the office are right when they talk up the social aspects of a central space where all can meet up. I’ve made the point before that I loved the period when I freelanced from home but did not have to juggle the kids’ digital schooling at the same time. Others simply aren’t cut out for working on their own, either because they find it difficult to motivate themselves, or because they miss the comfort of company.

Last fall I spoke off the record with the CEO of a major multinational who argued the future will be a hybrid model, with greater numbers employed on a WFH basis full or part time. Apart from anything else, this gives employers a far wider talent pool to draw on. A Budapest-based business services center doesn’t need a satellite office in one of the university cities such as Szeged or Pecs, say, if it can have people working remotely. But that CEO was equally adamant that the office would remain as a point of central contact, for townhall meetings, for team building, for company culture development and branding, and for those who cannot or do not want to work from home. The balance of how you use the space will change, but the need for an office will not.

Wherever you work, today and in the future, stay safe.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 29, 2021.

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