The ‘transformation’ of working remotely with decentralized office models

Measures to deal with the pandemic have brought about new ways of working that could be here to stay

General image of an open office (by Marta Casado Pla)
General image of an open office (by Marta Casado Pla) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 28, 2020 01:39 PM

The coronavirus crisis has led to a huge increase in people working remotely, mostly from home, due to the need to reduce mobility across the country. "We have gone from 8% to 80% during the state of alarm," said Iván Ciudad, Professor of Economics and Business Studies at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). 

This new way of working has driven the “transformation” of offices into “meeting places” and spaces for training or innovation. In addition, the "decentralized" model of working has also been strengthened, with smaller offices and satellite offices throughout the country. 

The impact of the health crisis has also meant adopting new safety measures that aim to put more distance between workers to prevent infection.

"I don't think offices will disappear,” said Franz Palleres, chief operating officer and commercial director of the coworking company Aticco, before qualifying that he thinks “we will tend to a much more decentralized model, where workers will go to flexible spaces near their home and satellite offices will be established." 

Most players in the sector agree that the increase in working remotely will not lead to the disappearance of traditional offices. However, they say it will involve a "transformation" of these spaces into environments based on experience.

The director of operations of the real estate consultancy CBRE, Carlos Casado, anticipates that offices will become meeting places between colleagues where they are committed to training, innovation, or creation. 

“Just as we have realized that we can work from home, we have also realized that we need the office to work in some areas,” Casado summed up.

For the co-founder of Atticco, the change in the way of working will be accompanied by a new trend in the renting of office spaces. Prospective tenants will be “less likely” to sign long-term contracts or with a high investment in renovations, and will instead be more focused on renting spaces in the short term.

According to this forecast, Palleres believes that large companies could benefit from the increase in working remotely. "There are companies that did not consider going to a 'coworking' space but now believe that it makes no sense to rent such a large office and prefer to take a smaller space and establish shifts," he said.

The commitment to the system which avoids large groups is also a consequence of the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has also meant the implementation of security measures in the offices, with the consequent change in the distribution of these spaces.

"Recently, the concept of open office was talked about so that people could interact and be more comfortable at work. Studies have come out that say that productivity is not higher and that the departmental distribution of jobs helps the employee to concentrate," explained Iván Ciudad, a collaborating professor in the UOC's Economics and Business Studies, an expert in occupational risk prevention.

Now, the pandemic has accelerated this trend with the installation of panels or partitions among workers. "Faced with the situation of health crisis, companies will be forced to use physical barriers to maintain effective separation between jobs when the minimum distance cannot be guaranteed," added the associate professor of Economics and UOC company, Miguel Arenas.

Office cleaning and disinfection protocols will become more important, and common areas such as the cafeteria or meeting rooms, will undergo a more rigid temporary change in management and will have greater capacity control. Ciudad considers these changes "purely temporary" but says they will be maintained in the long run depending on the "productivity" of employees.

In any case, the UOC professor also believes that the increase in remote working will lead to a tendency to reduce working hours. “It is very likely that many companies will consider whether the days are continuous or even implement a four-day working week,” he assured.

The co-founder of Atticco does not believe that working hours will be reduced but points to a flexibility in entry and exit times, a measure already put in place by some companies during the state of alarm to avoid congestion on public transport. In addition, it also provides for working remotely to be maintained and, in some cases, to work four days in the office and one, remotely.