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Why the work from home trend might not be here to stay

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Summary

Early predictions we'd all keep working from home haven't exactly panned out

Working from home has had an impact on employee productivity, workplace culture over past year: Colliers

On average, Colliers' numbers suggest demand for office space will only be down about eight per cent looking ahead

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – For many people, the past 12 months have meant a big shift in how they do their job. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a number of things in our lives, including forcing many of us to embrace the work-from-home lifestyle.

However, it seems early predictions that many of us would continue to work from the comforts of home haven’t really panned out.

Working from the kitchen table, the basement bedroom, or the garden shed has been the reality for many people over the past year as COVID-19 forced communities into lockdowns.

However, John Duda with Colliers International — a professional services and investment management company — says its studies have found the trend dropped off pretty quickly.

“What happened initially was there was a very big reaction that ‘we’re going to work from home’ and there was a general sense that we really could work from home permanently on a much broader basis. And within I would say three to four months that attitude started to shift rapidly and continued to shift into the fall,” he explained.

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Duda says one of the biggest problems was a drop in productivity, something companies can’t sustain long term.

“The first round of surveys, which was in June, said there was a drop of approximately 21 per cent in productivity. It’s not equal across all businesses, it’s not equal across all size of business — so we looked at large, medium, and small businesses — and then come the fall, we did another round of surveys and the productivity was slightly worse,” he told NEWS 1130.

Productivity fell to about 22.5 per cent, Duda notes, pointing to a consistent decline in productivity. He says large businesses haven’t been seeing the same productivity decline, which appears to be hitting small businesses hardest.

“This seems to be reflective of the attitudes toward space as well, where larger businesses are saying they can relinquish space, they feel comfortable that they will be able to, and medium sized relatively saying less, and small business generally saying no, they can’t relinquish space,” he added.

On average, Colliers’ numbers suggest demand for office space will only be down about eight per cent looking ahead, though that will depend on the size and type of business.

Work culture also takes a hit

Meanwhile, productivity is not the only thing that has been impacted by the work-from-home movement.

“It’s extremely difficult to instill a culture when people are working from home,” Duda explained. “In pre-pandemic life, a number of large companies banned permanent work from home — like for the likes of IBM — and the reasons were those: it was productivity and culture, and it declined so significantly that they banned it globally.”

With those factors living on into today, Duda says the question now shifts to: what is the right model to ensure productivity and workplace culture don’t suffer, while keeping workers and the business healthy?

The economic impacts of the pandemic have hit many businesses hard over the last 12 months. With lower revenue for many companies, Duda notes there isn’t a lot of capital that these businesses can freely spend in the short term.

Colliers foresees an evolution of the workplace over time.

“As people say move into different space as they normally would over time, people will experiment with different models for their office. But we’re seeing next to no activity in terms of people saying, ‘hey, I’m going to redo my space for my post-pandemic world,” Duda said, adding that may change in the future.