Is working from home killing office space in Budapest ?

By Bence Takács

By Bence Takács

Budapest is packed with multinational companies, whether we are talking about information technology, international banks, auditing firms or virtually any industry that has had a rapid growth in the twenty first century. Factors like relatively cheap and skilled labor, a growing economy, and other incentives are attracting firms to invest their millions here.

Unlike most capital cities in Europe (particularly in Western Europe), Hungary’s capital does not really have a separate financial district, but instead it has multiple areas with office buildings scattered around town. These enormous office buildings sometimes fill up entire blocks in the outskirts, while in other instances they are built in a location closer to the downtown area, often in between historic or old buildings. Whether we like them or not, they have been an integral part of the modern corporate era, and their presence has been considered to be a sign of an economic growth. Like most things though, they also have an expiration date, and the time might has come for an age of a new working lifestyle.

While every major corporation has their own policy on mitigation techniques against the spread of the virus, abandoning the communal office space was a mandatory step enforced by the government during the peak of pandemic. Many professionals such as computer programmers for instance, had a relatively easy transitioning to the so-called ‘New Normal’ due to the nature of their jobs. Contrarily, other types of jobs are more likely to be tied to physical space, and stricter time schedules.

Towards the end of May 2020, most office buildings were scheduled to reopen by the end of the summer, while their employees had been working overtime to introduce new safety measures – as Magyar Nemzet, a Hungarian newspaper had reported. The new safety protocols for most firms include reprogramming the climatization systems and elevators, placing hand sanitizer dispensers around and putting safety instructions on the walls.

However, not every company was so keen on sending their employees back to work to an office environment. The Finnish telecommunications giant Nokia, for instance, preferred to keep most of their workers in Budapest out of their communal office space, which by the way had just been built recently near Corvin Plaza – a dynamically developing office and condominium area. As one of the company’s young software engineers; Melitta Knausz recalls:

“We have received an email from the directors on March 11, essentially saying that home office is recommended for everyone, except for lab workers. This order has been extended by the end of the year – as of now. After filling out a form, we could bring our equipment home with us, and since then I have been working from home.” – explained the young employee of the company. When asked about the specific numbers, and the general attitude of the employees towards the new rules, she continued:

“From early July, 350 employees could return to the office after reserving a seat in advance through an online tool. This number is projected to decrease to 220 by the end of September. Even though many people enjoy being in a home office, a lot of my coworkers have been complaining about their working conditions from home. Employees also have been demanding some sort of financial help to buy quality furniture, like office chairs, so they would have the same comfortable environment to endure the long working hours from home. The management of Nokia is working on this issue right now.”

If the virus will not back down in intensity in the near future, companies seriously have to rethink their long-term strategy about maintaining and expanding their office spaces. They have to face the fact that a multitude of workers find the comfort of their own home more suitable for work, than to commute to the office to work in a cubicle. The short-term outlook for office buildings depends on the spread of the virus, the attitude of employees and government regulations and policies. Working from home, however, can also save a tremendous amount of money in the long term for certain companies as maintenance, cleaning, utilities and other fees can be avoided.