The workplace in a post Covid-19 world

Wednesday, 8th April 2020

David Laws, Partner and business space expert at property specialist Matthews & Goodman


There are three things we can be sure of in the aftermath of this Covid-19 induced hiatus:

  • Every organisation’s business model will evolve
  • Seeking efficiencies by optimising office/homeworking will become a strategic imperative for all
  • Recognising great leadership, whilst retaining the best talent will become even more critical as we battle to recover turnover, market position and our growth ambitions.

Pre Covid-19, we recently surveyed over 1,000 UK office workers to help us understand the dynamics in the workplace and we were surprised by the results. For example:

  • Over 50% of employees would consider leaving their jobs if their office was unappealing – I suspect the Covid-19 induced isolation will cause everyone to review their career plans
  • 44% admitted that an unpleasant workplace would ‘definitely’ make them look for a new job and a further 45% said it ‘might’ encourage them to look around.

Comparing the generations was interesting – 48% of Millennials* were more likely to move jobs because of the state of the office, compared to 42% of Generation Xers*. Given that we are all currently working from home, do these thoughts now turn to moving home because of the state of our dining room, spare bedroom, kitchen or wherever we have set up our temporary places of work?

In a post-Covid-19 world, there will be an even greater emphasis on defining the purpose of the office together with its function. Establishing the drivers for group and individual requirements whilst ensuring a degree of ownership and personalisation will have a significant impact on an employees’ wellbeing, operational efficiency and ultimately desire to perform to the best of their ability. Of course, we cannot all be like Google, with its extraordinary workplaces fuelled by a profound desire to create workspace which are “the happiest and most productive workplaces in the world.”

In Manchester, we have our own ‘creative-office-design’ flag carriers. Key Travel’s new HQ at St James’ Building for example, was designed to bring teams from four offices across the city, into one location – to meet clear business goals and reduce costs.

See here for the designers brief and objectives to simplify

Our survey findings reflect this approach with 43% of employees stating that a good workspace improves their ability to work effectively.

Creating a productive working environment can, in my experience, be easily achieved by providing facilities such as:

  • Clean and tidy work zones, free of distraction
  • A quiet zone for reflective individual work such as research and report writing
  • An area for collaborative work – from informal 1-2-1 meetings, to audio conferencing
  • A space for phone calls or confidential chats
  • Casual areas with furniture reflective of the function or task required

In addition, what office workers treasure most is a tidy workplace (29%), with a good kitchen (25%), natural light (22%) and a comfortable break-out area (10%).

In addition, good transport access was important for 16% of respondents – with 53% using a car and 21% public transport to get to work. Understandably, a bad commute to work can create a negative mood for the day ahead for 31% of respondents.

Being able to remain in the area in which they had established their business was one of the key factors for cybersecurity company PortSwigger when looking for new premises which could accommodate their growth plans and expansion objectives. With no existing building meeting the requirement, the decision was made to enter into a pre-let agreement for a new 65,000 sq ft bespoke office HQ in Knutsford. The other factors included:

  • The ability to create a workplace with employees wellbeing at the core
  • Creating a space to reflect its brand and culture
  • A workplace with flexibility that enabled the company to achieve its anticipated growth milestones.

How profoundly the Covid-19 lockdown has changed our attitudes to working from home and companies’ occupational strategies is yet unknown, but it will. Interestingly, our survey concluded that 57% of employees were not able to work from home (before lockdown), whilst 34% were unable to take advantage of flexible working hours. That will all change.

This conclusion is mirrored by a recent study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) into working lives. It found that whilst 54% of workers currently enjoy some sort of work flexibility, there is huge unmet demand, as over two in three workers (68%) would like greater flexibility at work. The CIPD concluded: “most flexible arrangements, make a big difference to people’s quality of life and usually have no impact on one’s career.”

Effective Working-From-Home (WFH) strategies are dependent on good IT, fast broadband, clear management protocols, self-discipline and trust. When the lockdown ends, businesses will assess the impact working remotely has had on their business and the workforce. It could also re-shape how employees see their workplace once they return to the office.

But, I cannot help think about all those humorous posts of laptops on ironing boards (to replicate the office’s standing desk), or the crouching over a low coffee table because that is the only place left to work – apart from bed. The advocates of WFH have to remember that not everyone has a quiet working area at home, which allows them to think, work, focus and enjoy what they do to earn a living and pay the mortgage.

True WFH can be adopted on a more regular basis. True this will lead to a reassessment of how we use our office space and the work practices we adopt but, for many, it is not the panacea it is cracked out to be. Some people miss decent working conditions and the social interaction with like-minded people, not just their family members.

I really have no clue what the world will look like when this lockdown is lifted, but what I do know is that there will be a greater focus on where we work, how we work and when we work – across all sectors. We were already having these conversations with some clients, but I suspect we will have a lot more of them with a lot more clients.

Further findings on the survey can be found on the Matthews & Goodman website here.


  • ENDS –


*Millenials: born between 1980-1994

Generation Z: born between 1995 – 2009