Why businesses are increasingly opting for virtual offices

A man working from home. (Courtesy/iStock)

I have followed developments in commercial real estate over the past four years and concluded that the segment has changed. It appears that, post Covid 19, some employers and organisations decided not to rent ultra-modern offices in high end areas in Nairobi and cut costs running into thousands of shillings monthly. Could there be organisations that would prefer different office designs to contain future pandemics?

Sanjeet, Nairobi

Yes, some organisations made radical operational decisions to cut costs and stay afloat post Covid-19. They stopped renting offices after they realised some employees are more productive if they worked remotely, working from home.  They borrowed a leaf from international companies like Facebook and X (then Twitter) that gave their employees the opportunity to decide to work from home permanently.

Some organisations have since moved into smaller offices to maintain their physical locations as the majority of their meetings and seminars are done virtually. Some even hold their board meetings on virtual platforms to avoid costs charged by five-star hotels.

Technology is the new normal as some firms are currently burning the midnight oil to supercharge remote work by enabling people to switch between real and virtual worlds more effectively. Technology is part of a new computing platform that combines augmented and virtual reality with new devices to create infinite working spaces that allows co-workers to collaborate in virtual meeting rooms.

There are also some working on codec avatars – lifelike virtual avatars of employees – towards enhancing social interaction and to help social connections become as natural and familiar as the real world. In the West, some real estate firms have redesigned offices to ensure social distancing is maintained.

Global real estate company Cushman & Wakefield, for instance, designed the six-feet office which guarantees distancing of employees observing the six feet rule.

For organisations that would still prefer physical presence of staff, it may be important to consider reverting to the old closed-plan offices as opposed to the open layouts where everyone sat on desks in large rooms.

Future offices could also consider having several visual cues to ensure social distancing from standing in lifts, circles around desks and instructions on floors to keep distance. There could also be another possible approach to encourage staff to walk clockwise, creating a one-way human flow towards minimising disease transmission. Companies may also need to invest in contactless technologies to reduce disease transmission. 

Harold Ayodo is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya


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