30-50 percent fewer people work in the office in Hungary - What will happen to all those empty buildings?

English2020. nov. 26.Növekedés.hu

In most of the large companies, work in the office has restarted in various phases, and now 70 percent of workers have returned to the office on average, while the other 30 percent are still working from home, Zoltán Kalmár, founder of the Office of the Year Award said in an interview given to növekedés.hu about the impact of the pandemic on the office market.

As a result of the second wave of the epidemic, many companies have an increasing number of workers who are working from home. What is the occupancy rate of offices now and what proportion of employees are in home office?

It greatly depends on the profile of the company. The vast majority of IT or software developer companies, for example, can operate from home office with the same efficiency, sometimes even more efficiently, but there are companies that have almost fully returned to the offices, of course after implementing health and safety regulations. Large multinational companies have started to resume office work in various phases, which means that 0, 30, 70, or 100 percent of the workforce is present in the office.

The number of employees working in the office depends on which phase the company is in, but most big companies are currently in the 70 percent phase.

The other system frequently used by companies is the week A / week B division, which means that 50 percent of the workforce goes into the office one week and the other 50 percent the other week, so everybody works remotely every second week: from home, cafes or shared offices.

What are the current trends in the office market in the wake of the epidemic?

The need for home office is an absolutely dominant trend, but apart from that, the epidemic has already changed, or will change many other things in the future. It is clear that the office as such is needed in most places; online conference solutions cannot reach the same effect and personal involvement as face-to-face meetings and conversations.

So-called corporate coworking or shared offices may start to grow in the future, especially where the rate of remote work is high (3-4 days a week), as in these cases there is more need for social interactions, spontaneous meetings and alternative workspaces.

How many empty offices are there in the market now? How does the current situation affect rental prices?

In the office market there are typically 3-5 year contracts, so the current situation only has a limited impact in the short term. Several companies are trying to renegotiate their contracts, they will downsize their office space in the future, or simply give up plans for expansion, but, at the same time, there are businesses that will expand, as there are not only losers, but also winners of the current transformation.

The office market is not very flexible. During the previous crisis, for example, almost 300,000 square metres of new office space entered the market even in 2010.

Most of the new office buildings to be completed in the near future already have pre-lease agreements, and high quality modern offices are still needed. We can see that in the case of office buildings that are being designed now or those which are already under construction, new hygiene and technology solutions are being added, so, non-contact office buildings, thermal gates and voice-controlled elevators have started to gain ground.

How typical is it that existing offices are being reorganized due to safety regulations?

All companies responded to the virus situation and introduced various measures. Facility operators have started controlling the entrance to some office buildings by measuring body temperature. Disinfectants are now available for employees for free in most offices, and facemasks have been made mandatory or highly recommended in many places. We have also seen creative solutions such as carpets with “road signsshowing people which direction to follow, indicating disinfection points and how to keep safe distances.

In offices where people used to sit too close to each other, only every second workstation is being used now.

Plexiglass screens have been installed in almost all customer service desks, and also the use of facemasks has been made compulsory.

To what extent have open offices lost popularity now?

I do not think open offices will cease to exist in the near future. Providing a separate room for every employee would mean that the cost of office space per employee becomes much higher. In addition, in many cases there is a need for communication or brief exchanges between team members and people are more prepared to keep bigger distances from each other than become estranged.

Companies only took these measures in response to an extraordinary situation, but when the epidemic subsides, we expect face-to-face human communication to prevail again, so offices will need to act quickly in order to follow these new office trends.