This, the first of Quoin Online’s webinar series, featured Richard Edwards, Divisional Executive of Property Finance from Nedbank and Alan van der Westhuizen, Head of Partnership Growth for International Workplace Group (IWG), with the discussion facilitated by Professor Francois Viruly and Rob McGaffin of UCT’s Urban Real Estate Research Unit.
Increased productivity has been one of the unexpected trends to have emerged as workers are required to operate remotely under the lockdown which is currently in place to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While restrictions have been eased significantly since the lockdown was initially implemented at the end of March, President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged those who can continue to work remotely, to do so in order to limit the number of people in the workplace.
In the first of Quoin Online’s webinar series which explores the impact the pandemic has had on the property market, Richard Edwards, Divisional Executive of Property Finance from Nedbank, said an interesting trend that came from working remotely, was the increase in work output. Employees, he noted, were spending more time focused on their tasks with no workplace distractions or “water cooler chatter”.
Asked how the pandemic was changing his views of how he accommodated his own staff, Edwards said Nedbank had already been rationalising its office spaces across the country and in its property business in Cape Town, 87 of the 90 staff members were currently working from home.
“In the space of two weeks,” he said, “IT set up everyone to work from home and it is likely they will continue to work like that until the end of the lockdown.”
Working remotely, he added, had proven to be “very beneficial”.
Supporting this, property economist Professor Francois Viruly, who is based at UCT’s Urban Real Estate Research Unit, pointed out that studies had shown that five hours of work at home equated to a full day at the office in terms of productivity.
However, remote working does have its pitfalls. While it eliminates the need to travel to the office, rentals and office automation, family distractions at home and “shopping adventures” can affect how successful working from home can be.
In addition to this, said Edwards, employees working remotely may start to question their worth to the company, feel a disconnect from workplace culture and suffer the psychological impact of social distancing.
Another working trend which was already gaining popularity before the lockdown, and which may change the way we work in future, was the move from traditional office space to shared workspace, said Alan van der Westhuizen, Head of Partnership Growth for International Workplace Group (IWG). These shared workspaces, he explained, are serviced premises with small common areas which still allow workers to practise physical distancing.
Another alternative to working remotely, is decentralised office nodes within suburban residential areas, where workers have the benefit of office automation – but closer to where they live.
This model could, for example, alleviate the risk of closure of the whole company if there is a Covid-19 case in one of the satellite offices.
Mixed use developments
Yet another model is the “Live, Work, Play” trend which is becoming more pronounced, with the focus shifting to spending less time commuting and having more time for social interactions and a better home/work life balance. While the Covid-19 restrictions limit movement and social interaction, the ability to work from home as well as having some sort of digital entertainment within the comfort of one’s own home plays into the concept.
And people like convenience. They like having their amenities close by and mixed use developments facilitate just that, said Van der Westhuizen. Going forward, it could be that these developments are more focused on for their risk profile, synergy factors and ease of convenience.
While most of the trends discussed were already present before the pandemic, there is no doubt they have now been accelerated over the past few weeks, with companies having to restructure their business models to adhere to the changing economy.
The main question is where work will take place once we return to “normal”. Will we return to traditional office spaces, or will the serviced decentralised offices nodes, flexible workspaces or remote working with rotational office visits become the proverbial new normal?