The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on businesses around the globe, and it will have an unprecedented effect on construction industry trends as well. As offices continue to close and a greater number of employees work from home, businesses are starting to see the ongoing benefits of telecommuting, which in turn will have an impact on the future of office design. The rise in telecommuting will also increase the need for a more robust data infrastructure. The result will be a change in commercial building design and a demand for more data centers.
How Telecommuting Will Change Office Construction
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of remote workers had been climbing dramatically. GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics estimates that the number of telecommuting employees has risen 173 percent in the last 15 years, which is 11 percent faster than the size of the in-office workforce and 47 times faster than self-employed workers. According to Gallup, 43 percent of the workforce does some work from home, and 31 percent of those surveyed spend 80-100 percent of their time working remotely. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 26 million Americans work at home at least part of the time, and 29 percent of workers could work from home in their primary job.
As more workers telecommute, there is less demand for full-time office space. With office space renting for as much as $23 per square foot, eliminating desk space can save companies a lot of money. That means new building criteria for contractors. In addition, businesses are going to start allocating less space per worker and develop rolling schedules to accommodate more telecommuters.
Employees also like the idea of working from home for a number of reasons. Contrary to popular belief that telecommuting is only for young gig workers, research also shows that the average telecommuter is 49 years old, with a good salary juggling work and home responsibilities. A Regus survey showed that 61 percent of workers want a better work/life balance, and 20 percent of workers also considered quitting their jobs because of long commutes. Though working from home can promote productivity, there will still be times when it makes sense to work in the office as well.
As telecommuting becomes more popular, the construction industry is going to have to adapt. Having a big office in a high rise doesn’t have the appeal it once did, and more corporations are going to seek ways to economize on their office space. Office space will be redesigned to accommodate more communal work spaces and fewer offices and cubicles. There will be less emphasis on large urban headquarters and more emphasis on smaller offices with coworking space. Smaller offices will help companies reduce their carbon footprint as well.
You also can expect to see other construction industry trends emerge. Fewer commuters means that less parking will be required. It also will encourage companies to locate offices where property is less expensive and where they receive greater tax incentives.
As demand for office space decreases, demand for new housing continues to increase. Rents in urban centers continue to rise, and cities are seeking new ways to increase available housing, including loosening restrictions on new housing construction. The result may be a boom in new home construction.
Remote Workers Demand More Data Access
Although there will be less spending on office space, you can expect to see higher spending on data centers. As more stay-at-home workers demand access to streaming services and data, it will be harder for cloud service providers to keep up. That means more data center construction to maintain the infrastructure needed to support the growing number of telecommuters.
TechRepublic reported that on March 12, early in the COVID-19 crisis, 52.21 percent of employees were asked to work remotely to limit the spread of the virus. As more workers are staying home, the current data systems have been slowing down. Microsoft Teams went down in Europe on March 16, because of the dramatic increase in teleconferencing traffic. Zoom video conferencing also went down on April 3 because of too much traffic. If telecommuting is going to flourish, more infrastructure with larger bandwidth capabilities will be needed, and that means more data center construction.
To ensure uninterrupted service, data centers are going to be built to handle a greater capacity, and more data centers will be built closer to where they are being used. Major data center markets will continue to grow into data center districts. Northern Virginia, for example, already has 100 data centers and is adding more. At the same time, smaller data centers are being built in emerging markets for edge computing applications.
According to Gartner, by 2022, 70 percent of data traffic is going to be generated outside the data center by machine-to-machine communications and applications such as artificial intelligence. The only way to handle the additional traffic will be building larger data centers and more data centers closer to the data source, to overcome data gravity. These new data centers are going to be built quickly, and they will need to be scalable to increasing levels of data traffic.
More Data Centers Mean More Modular Design
Contractors looking to capitalize on the data center boom should start planning now. They will need to consider what the future of work may look like and how to accommodate the new work environment.
New office construction will center around easy access and accommodating floating employees. Businesses will not only be rethinking workspace design, but they will also want smaller offices in urban centers and locations that are closer to the workforce. Data centers will be built closer to office space to accommodate edge computing, and those data centers will need to have remote access for administration as well as data, including remote monitoring and power management. In addition, it is imperative that these data centers are going to need to be scalable.
To accommodate these construction industry trends, we can expect to see more modular construction. Using prefabricated power systems and components, as well as delivering prefabricated data centers, will shorten construction time and deliver data centers that are more compact and efficient, with a lower power usage effectiveness (PUE). Going modular will also simplify scalability because more capacity can be added as needed.
If you want to learn more about what’s coming in construction industry trends, be sure to download our new e-book, The State of the Construction Industry in the New Decade.