For many many years, professional firms have generally been quite selective about where their offices have been located. The quality of a firm’s office was thought to contribute to their brand, professionalism, image and the like. For the big end of town, this is particularly so, often locating their offices in the biggest and best buildings in town, with very impressive facilities, as would be expected.
In fact, after the cost of personnel, rent is the next biggest ticket item or expense for firms, most recently representing between 5% and 7% of total revenue on average depending on location. It is also an expense that generally requires a reasonable commitment in terms of the length of time. Some are fortunate enough to be able to negotiate a 1 or 2 year lease, whilst others have committed to 5 years as a minimum. The length of the lease may perhaps also be dictated by the need to recoup fit out costs.
Then we had the pandemic, which resulted in our practices effectively running from the homes of partners and personnel. Surprisingly, this actually worked for most. However, as we gradually return to ‘normal’ (whatever that looks like), we are hearing some firms are more open to having personnel working from home a couple of days a week. This may not be all personnel, it may perhaps be offered to more senior personnel only, but regardless, it is a step away from the belief that working from home does not work for professional firms, a view held by many pre COVID. Just as a tip, flexible working conditions, such as working from home, will be a key question asked by potential recruits so you may wish to give this approach some thought in respect of your firm before your next recruitment drive.
So the question lies, do we still require the same sized offices post COVID to that pre COVID? Whilst hot desking may be a little more difficult, if suitable cleaning processes can be implemented, does your firm still require the same number of desks etc, and therefore, the same overall office space? This is a consideration being given by many companies, particularly those CBD based where rents are the highest.
However, the flip side of this consideration is, do professional firms require offices at all? With the increased use of the likes of Zoom and/or the ability to visit clients at their premises or homes, is this an expense that we still need to either partially or fully incur? From time to time upon visiting a firm’s website, I notice that there are no details of its physical address. Additionally, the contact phone number may only be a mobile. This is certainly the exception rather than the norm. However, it always makes me wonder if this firm is being operated from home, or it’s a small or start up firm? Will this firm have the capability and capacity to meet my requirements? It’s funny, because I almost seem to be questioning the professionalism of the firm simply for not having a physical presence and I have no other reasons to make these assumptions.
So, despite the fact that we have all embraced and accepted the ability to work from home as a result of the pandemic, for me for some reason, it still seems important to have some form of physical premises. For firms as a whole, whether this needs to be so, or to be of a comparable size to that historically occupied, time will tell. However, this does perhaps represent an opportunities to review this source of expenditure.
If you would like to share your thoughts or share what your firm is doing in respect of staff returning to the office versus working from home, it would be great to hear from you – firstname.lastname@example.org