The empty offices that are re-shaping our city centres

An empty office. Via Unsplash

As employees continue to work remotely, many companies are questioning the need for an office space altogether. This development has accelerated the trend of re-purposing office spaces into homes.   

Inforgraphic created via Canva

Even before the covid-19 pandemic, remote working was becoming more common. Each year, a greater number of offices were abandoned by businesses opting for a fully digital way of working. For some, saying goodbye to the office means feeling isolated and losing a sense of community while working from home. For others, vacant office spaces spell new living spaces with lower rent.  

The Netherlands was ahead of curve in terms of remote working. In 2019, the Netherlands and Finland both had the largest percentage of remote workers in Europe (14.1%). Since the pandemic, however, the number of remote workers everywhere has shot up. Over June and July 2020, 41.4% of employees in the Netherlands reported that they were currently working remotely. The continued work-from-home trend points to the mass vacation of offices at an even more staggering rate than we’ve seen in previous years.   

In 2020, the total available office space in the Netherlands amounted to 4.7 million square metres. However, 3.9 million square metres of this space is currently vacant. This trend is reflected across Europe, with the unused office space in the UK reportedly 50 times larger than London’s O2 Arena in June 2020.   

Laura Haverson is employed by a digital agency that announced earlier this week that they were giving up their office. Although Laura has been working remotely for the majority of the pandemic, the news that she now does not have an office to return to has left her feeling “isolated and stuck to [her] computer”. She said, “the office helped to give me a sense of purpose and also helped with work/life balance.”  

However, the vacation of offices signifies a positive future for affordable housing in city centres. In 2018, for example, 13,000 homes were created by transforming office blocks in the Netherlands. Esther van Doorn is a student who lives in a repurposed office block in Groningen, a living situation that she describes as “ideal.” She adds that “the big benefit for me is the low rent costs. Obviously, it’s not designed as a living space, so you have to be a bit more flexible in that sense, but to me, the negatives are insignificant compared to the low costs.”  

Cities everywhere are undergoing a transformation throughout the course of the pandemic, but rather than a ghost town of empty offices, we are likely to see many new opportunities for affordable housing.   

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