During a recent interview with Bloomberg Television, Morgan Stanley chairman and chief executive James Gorman suggested that the current pandemic had prompted the global banking giant to reconsider its real estate portfolio.

Kay Sargent

Kay Sargent

With 90% of the company’s 80,000 employees working from home, he stated that the bank had proven it could operate “with no footprint”. He went on to say he could see a future whereby many of Morgan Stanley’s staff would be working from home.

Like Morgan Stanley, many companies will come out of this pandemic realising that remote working has a key role to play in their real estate strategies going forward. Some will emerge with a new appreciation for the workplace and value of in-person collaboration and teamwork. Others will consider implementing flexible work to reduce the size of their portfolios.

However, it is important to remember we are social animals. We thrive on being together. While remote working is proving a viable alternative for some, it lacks the social aspects found in the workplace.

What all companies will have in common post Covid-19 is a renewed focus on creating spaces that are productive, safe and healthy and that embrace wellness principles and practices.

Most people don’t realise that offices with assigned desks have been proven to be less hygienic than many toilets. That’s because cleaning crews are typically instructed not to touch anything on a person’s desk. But in unassigned environments with a clean-desk policy, the desks can be cleaned every night and are more sanitary.

While remote working is rich with opportunity, it is also rife with new challenges

AI and ambient technology also offer solutions for making workspaces healthier and more productive. We have cars that sync with the key fobs in our pockets so that before we step inside the vehicle, the mirrors and seats are adjusted, the air-conditioning is on, the engine is running and the radio is tuned to our favourite station. Compare that to the workplace, where many of us are still crawling under our desks to access a power outlet.

One reason this is likely to change is the requirement to reduce the number of touchpoints in our work environments. Companies will recognise the need to create autonomous, hands-free environments. The cost of creating hands-free solutions enabled by technology is minimal compared with the price of having to shut down a business due to contamination.

While remote working is rich with opportunity, it is also rife with new challenges. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And although the financial case for doing so can be compelling, the decision to move to remote working shouldn’t just hinge on economics. The degree to which staff work remotely should be based on job function, how this aligns with business needs, their personality and their ability to work effectively this way. 

A silver lining of our isolation is it has given us time to think more holistically about our office environments. Einstein once said: “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” We now face a choice: go back to the old ways of working or seize the opportunity to move forward and come out stronger on the other side.

Kay Sargent is director of workplace at HOK