Corona influences international trends on the office market

The corona crisis strengthens some of the international tendencies that are heading towards Denmark, according to the head of Danish commercial estate agency EDC International Poul Erik Bech.

Following the corona crisis, we may see Danish workplaces being characterized by more work-from-home days as well as by more efficiently utilized office spaces of the type already prevalent in many countries. So Helle Nielsen Ziersen, Partner, Director and Head of EDC International Poul Erik Bech, predicts:

“During the corona crisis, many employees have been working from home, and this has proven beneficial. A number of employees would like to work from home a couple of days a week. This is an efficient way to work, and they can save time on commuting. Working from home may become more prevalent in companies that have had good experiences with it. Companies may profit by implementing free seating or plug-and-play solutions, enabling them to have fewer desks than employees.”

Helle Nielsen Ziersen points out that a prerequisite of this is maintaining the same high level of efficiency when working at home, and that the employees can work from home undisturbed.

“However, corporate culture may be affected if working from home gains a footing, and many workplaces emphasize that the social aspect is paramount.”

Furthermore, she points out that Danish offices differ from offices in many other countries: “We are used to having our own desk, and as a result, we have a relatively large number of square metres per employee. This becomes evident in our dialogue with international companies that wish to set up company in Denmark; however, during the corona crisis, many companies have discovered that they can get by with less office space.”

Contributing to the tendency of diverting from the tradition of assigned workplaces and one desk per employee is an increased use of teams where employees collaborate on specific projects over a period of time.

Goodbye to assigned desks

Helle Nielsen Ziersen expects that Danish desks will shrink over time – both as a result of an international tendency, and in line with the continuous digitization that leads to more and more tasks being performed digitally, while fewer tasks require paper and printed reports.

“Here in Denmark, a standard desk is typically 160cm (63 inches) wide, but in some countries desks are usually smaller,” Helle Nielsen Ziersen observes.

In a newly published report, JLL, the international collaboration partner of EDC Erhverv and one of the world’s largest realtors, points out that at a global scale, companies may save 10-15% of their office space.

“We see this in other countries, and this may in time come to make its mark on Danish office workplaces as well, even though us Danes – myself included – have grown accustomed to having a certain comfort zone containing our own separate desk. Smaller office spaces will especially become relevant when companies relocate, among other things because different rules of law limit the options for reducing already existing spaces. Many companies today calculate cost of occupancy per square meter, but we increasingly see calculations for costs per headcount, that is, costs per employee,” Helle Nielsen Ziersen notes.

She adds that the companies’ space requirements, despite work-from-home days, may remain unchanged if the authorities issues demands regarding a minimum distance between desks – or between employees – in order to reduce the risk of infection.

“However, the distance requirements, as determined by the health authorities, have resulted in a demonstrable decrease in the number of employees home sick with the flu, and a decrease in the extent of sick leave will positively affect the companies’ finances.”

Digital meetings

Helle Nielsen Ziersen furthermore points to two tendencies that the corona crisis has, if not initiated, then reinforced:

“We have gotten extremely good at conducting digital meetings, which has resulted in a time gain. Both in time saved on commuting, and because there is simply less small talk when, for example, only half an hour has been set aside for the meeting. Even though digital meetings cannot fully replace all physical meetings, we will experience an increase in the use of Zoom, Skype, Webex, and the like. I also think that we will see an increase in staggered working hours, that is, some people starting their working hours later in the day. This also corresponds with the government and the health authorities wanting to spread out the rush-hour traffic in order to reduce the risk of infection.”

The canteen has prevailed

Helle Nielsen Ziersen from EDC International Poul Erik Bech also points to a tendency which may be widespread in many countries, but which is unlikely to gain a footing in Danish offices:

“In London or Southern Europe, for example, employees usually go out for lunch, and often people will be gone for an entire hour in the middle of the day – and correspondingly stay later at work. I doubt we will be seeing this in Denmark: The canteen is here to stay; it is part of our culture, and it helps create a great work environment. When we do not go out for lunch, we have shorter workdays and a better work-life balance than in many other countries.”

Tendencies on the office market

  • More free seating and project work
  • Smaller office spaces or larger distances (with a decrease in sick leave)
  • Fewer – and smaller – desks
  • 1-2 work-at-home days a week being normal
  • More digital meetings, both internal and external
  • An increased use of staggered working hours
  • Canteens are here to stay – going out for lunch will not gain a footing.

Benefits of working from home

  • Fewer and shorter meetings
  • Freedom, independence – management of one’s own time
  • Undisturbed working time and more time for immersion
  • Increased efficiency
  • Flexibility
  • No commuting time – less congestion, better for the environment
  • Lower costs for the company
  • Better work-life balance
  • The company needs fewer square meters and communal areas, such as meeting rooms and canteen space.

Drawbacks of working from home

  • Loneliness – lack of social relations
  • Lack of professional input. Cannot turn to ask the person next to you
  • Never really being off work, being constantly at your ‘place of work’
  • The boundary between leisure and work becomes blurred
  • Increased procrastination
  • Not all tasks are suited to being solved from home
  • Some people are not geared for working from home but need fixed boundaries and are therefore less efficient
  • A persistent myth that employees do not get anything done when they work from home.

Helle Nielsen Ziersen

Partner, Director, Head of International Relations, MRICS, MDE
Phone: +45 58588717
Mobile: +45 40999946