As we return to the office will employers, along with developers, architects and planners, look back at lockdowns and approach working spaces entirely differently?
What we have seen is that, whilst many people have enjoyed some of the benefits of home working, they miss the office environment. But with a more flexible workforce, how employers create a workspace both to entice employees back in and get the most out of them when they are back will be a challenge. Whatever the approach is, we know that there will be legal issues to consider, either because leases need to be renegotiated or restrictions within them have to be taken into account.
If you are taking on a new working space, check what restrictions exist in the lease in terms of how you can change that space. If you want to put up partitions, or knock them down, you need to know that the landlord has agreed that. If you tackle that from the start, it will save time and money in the end and will help your relationship with your landlord.
Many businesses will be returning to their existing premises and taking a fresh look at how they use it – do they need to focus on task-based working spaces, rather than ranks or clusters of desks? Will more partitions be needed, to cope with concerns about social distancing, or will free-flowing space be more in demand as staff blend homeworking with visits to the office?
That hybrid approach to work might mean that you need smaller offices, possibly closer to where your employees live; if so, do you need to end your existing lease? You will want to do that on the best terms possible.
Or you may want to keep the existing premises and share it with another business, to make the best use of the space you have; again, check what your lease says, since many include restrictions on how the space can be used. You may be able to renegotiate those terms with some expert advice, especially if you already have a good relationship with your landlord.
Landlord-tenant relationship have certainly been under pressure in the past year – tenants whose business has had to cease or has fallen away will have struggled to pay rent, and landlords have not been able to pursue non-payment of rent in the usual way.
The government introduced a code of practice last summer designed to keep both parties talking to each other, with tenants encouraged to pay what they could and to discuss alternatives, and landlords encouraged to consider different options including deferrals and the use of deposits.
So those who have kept communications open and transparent will now be in a better position to move forward. If you are unlucky enough not to be in this situation, take advice on what your next move should be, so that you can keep your business on track in the post-lockdown world.
Mark Carter, Head of Real Estate, Cheltenham; 07725 242990/ firstname.lastname@example.org
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