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What will an office look like in 2021?

28 May 2020

Covid-19 has forced a global lockdown, and it seems that social distancing isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so how will this impact offices? In 2021, the office will operate by very different rules.  Telecommunication and data transfer technology has facilitated working from home on the widest ever scale, and people are now very aware of social distancing, and other hygienic practices.

[Read: Long-term remote working – building IT for a new culture]

What will an office look like in 2021 desks spaced out

We are at least 12 months away from a Covid-19 vaccine, and even when lockdown is completely over, the workplace will not be going back to what it was. So, where are employees and computers going to be?

Working from home 

During the UK lockdown, working policy hasn’t always been clear, but one message that was communicated without any confusion was if you can work from home, then you must. Every single person who can do their job from home is currently doing so, in the largest ever test of mass remote working.

And this test has been a successful one, with lots of companies reporting productivity levels sustained or even improved by their employees working from home. Twitter has given permission for their employees to continue working from home forever, regardless of what happens with Covid-19 and lockdown.

So, it is safe to say that this has introduced a "new-normal" regarding working from home and spending five days physically in the office will be a lot less common moving forward, even once lockdown is far behind us.

Offices are going to be much emptier, with over half of British people saying they would like to work from home more after lockdown has finished.

You also might end up seeing the same smaller group of people, since some companies are looking at introducing rotating shifts of people coming into the office to reduce the amount of contact people are having while the threat of Covid-19 is still around. And with a vaccine at least a year away, preventative measures aren’t going anywhere.

And this is assuming your office still exists. A lot of companies have their entire workforce working remotely right now, and have continued to operate, which begs the question: why continue the expense of an office? It’s safe to assume some of these businesses will be closing their offices and switching to a solely remote working structure in the near future. The economic impact of Covid-19 will be a driving factor here, since the economic downturn will be forcing CFOs across the country to start cutting costs, and – for some – offices will be the first expense to go.

Socially distant workplaces

A lot of people have jobs that can’t be done at home, and this has given us a glimpse of what the socially distant office of the future might look like. While some companies have had to shut down and furlough staff, businesses providing an essential service have continued to have employees coming into the office, while taking steps to make sure these employees are safe. You can read about the changes 4D has made here.

These socially distant practises have only been possible thanks to having such a large number of the workforce working from home, further reinforcing how companies will need to offer more working from home options post lockdown. And in this BBC News video, some experts speculate how the architecture and behaviour in the office will change, including:

  • Space between desks
  • Plexiglass around desks
  • One-way systems throughout offices
  • Limits on the number of people in lifts
  • New rules around sharing food, etc. in the office

London and other city offices will change the most

Offices in city centres and skyscrapers will be changed the most after the Covid-19 lockdown due to a number of factors.

Working in the penthouse of a city centre skyscraper will be a lot less appealing when access to the lifts is limited, and you face a long – socially distanced – queue to even get up to your desk.

Additionally, commuting costs into cities, especially London, are very expensive, and people are supposed to be avoiding close contact on public transport, but the majority of people use busses and tubes to get around London. London workers are highly likely to take advantage of new working from home practises and will come into the office less frequently than they would if they had a more accessible office.

Finally, commercial office rental costs in London are much higher than the rest of the country, because they’re in a premium location. But, if inner-city offices become very inconvenient, and staff are working from home as much as they can, why would businesses retain that expense? London companies will likely look to downsize their space or get rid of their offices all together.

Where will the computer systems be stored?

If office space is at a premium for social distancing, and some companies are getting rid of their offices completely, where does that leave their computer systems? In-office server rooms will be much less common, and companies will move computer systems to be hosted elsewhere to solve these issues.

People transitioning their system out of their office will also be driven by the fact that – if your staff are already having to remotely connect to your servers – they might as well be stored somewhere else, with better broadband connections.

Moving your servers to a data centre will get them out of your office and provide faster connection speeds for your staff working from home, while also providing increased resilience and security. With the different options for how to move your system to a data centre, you will be able to find a solution that is the perfect fit for your company.

No one could have predicted 2020 would look like this, so it’s difficult to say what anything will look like in 2021, but maybe come back this time next year to see how accurate we’ve been. The only thing we can say with absolute certainty: things will not be the same, and your office will need to be updated into the post-Covid-19 world.

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