Don’t fear the great office zombie apocalypse
I’m worried about empty offices.
Since the pandemic, few people want to work in the office full time, and when they do, they expect it to be a modern, well-designed and energy efficient place of business.
You don’t need to be a commercial property expert to realise there’s an awful lot of tired office buildings around the world that don’t fit that description.
For each shiny newcomer, you’ll find ten tired older relatives. Entire skyscrapers in New York City sit empty. These are the zombies threatening the previously undisturbed office ecosystem – vacant and lifeless structures that used to be the lifeblood of global business districts.
So naturally, a frantic dash is on to work out what to do with them – make a risky investment to retrofit and redesign them; convert them to a different use, like residential or storage; or just knock them down and start again at a significant loss.
No one can disagree that we need our global cities to be successful – domestically a successful London is the heartbeat of a successful UK.
But an optimistic part of me can’t help wondering if this great office reset isn’t finally the catalyst needed to reroute the road network of the world’s office workers.
With cities like London and San Francisco suffering crippling cost of living crises, where even high earners struggle to rent rooms, is this a time for regional towns and cities to come to the fore?
Could a more even geographic spread of the working population result in a more even flow of economic investment whilst driving urban renewal and creating a more balanced housing market?
As for the New Yorks and Londons of this world – they have shown time and again their ability to reincarnate themselves and emerge at the epicentre of something new. Let’s see what they come up with.