The Purpose of Place

The evolution of the modern office during COVID-19



Deborah Hawkins


The enforced shift to working from home for the majority of knowledge and non-essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many a daily pattern. It has also knocked the wind out of the bread and butter of the office document industry, shifting its foundation and questioning its existence.


The purpose of the future office is the big question we all seek to answer. Much has been posted about hybrid workstyles and some companies have been very bullish about cutting traditional offices going forward, stating that knowledge workers don’t require the cost and traditions of that prestigious block.


However, if we look back at the evolution of the office and the arise of cities and regions—Silicon Valley and the agglomeration of tech talent being a prime example—the three major forces that led to what economists call “agglomeration” remain a compelling story:

  • The desire of people and firms to be near materials and inputs
  • The need to be close to other creative people
  • The need to be around important ideas and innovation


In these current (pandemic) times, most knowledge workers that are non-essential and do not require specific equipment to work effectively have been banned to home offices. For some, this has meant they have spent the past eight months living and working under one roof. Whilst there are perks associated with working from home, such as lack of commute and higher perceived level of work-life balance, a high number are now realising that the office and the reassuring sound of the office copier really wasn’t so bad after all.


Our most recent survey of IT decision makers in Western Europe indicated that companies at this time expect that only 6% less time will be spent in the office when the threat of the pandemic has passed (compared to before COVID-19). That’s a huge cry out for the office and its benefits. (In case you are wondering if these percentages consider the switching between office and home, they certainly do. The percentages shown reflect total time spent in the location as opposed to the number of people.)


Percentage of Knowledge Workers in Offices


To be fair, the pandemic provided a test case for concepts such as the cloud and virtual meetings, which has led to mass adoption and acceptance. But the fear that remote working decreases innovation and diminishes levels of company branding and culture is pulling many back to a higher level of control. If companies can find a way to balance the benefits of home working with the advantages of the office—perhaps by adopting the casual working style often referred to by property experts as Googleplex  (where information is the pinnacle of the organization and added innovation, creativity and a fun attitude to work culture)—we will all be on the way to a smarter, more creative mode of working and living.


Our survey of IT decision makers in Western Europe looks at many other trends, such as the pandemic’s impact on business, its effect on print in the office, digital transformation, and provisions for home workers. If you are a client of our Office CompleteView service, you can read more about this here. Not a subscriber? No problem. Just send us an email at for more info.