Therefore, working from home should not mean that employees must work only at home. In fact, splitting time between home and the office is perhaps the most productive solution. The vice chair of the CIBSE FM group, David Stevens, sees it unlikely that the majority of employers will move to permanent home working. “There is likely to be an increase in employee’s personal choice as to where they work to improve work-life balance. This goes hand in hand with a shift towards agile working by employers to increase capacity in offices.” he said.
It is, however, inevitable that the demand for physical offices will decrease around the world. Current offices will need to be redesigned or repurposed. Considering that fewer designated individual physical workstations will be needed, more space could be allocated to physical group working activities and training instead. More social engagement can provide organisations with valuable insights and ideas from their talent pool and gives employees the opportunity to express their opinions and feel heard and valued. Professor Emeritus at University of Reading, Derek Clements Croome, explained “[An office] should provide social energy, should be a place for physical meetings and networking that generate ideas. This is more limited online. All those gestures and facial cues are missing online.”
The founder of Element 4 and a wellbeing expert, Georgia Elliott-Smith, went further and said “The office should be the heart of the organisation [and] a place that celebrates relationships, development and growth - a cultural and community hub.”
When the demand for designated workstations is reduced, many organisations are likely to realise that they will not need to keep all their offices, especially when modern and creative coworking spaces are also growing. “Many offices should be turned into residential accommodation.” said Bob Swayne, the Principal Director at The Hampden Consultancy. To do this effectively, “M&E engineering skills are required for re-designing services within buildings previously used as offices and architectural and structural skills are needed in re-planning spatial co-ordination within buildings in order to comply with current Building Regulations and energy efficiency drives.” he added.
Work is now location-agnostic, and it can happen anytime and anywhere as long as the right technology is at hand. However, physical offices still remain essential to enable meaningful interpersonal relationships among employees to help them and their organisations thrive. Offices will not disappear, but they will change. Building services engineers, along with other professionals, will play a vital role in effectively transforming and repurposing current office buildings.