Research shows that office fit-outs are likely to get more expensive, trade shows can thrive in a (partly) virtual economy and that clubs and bars face a long, cold winter.

Office furniture’s digitally enabled future

The majority (79 per cent) of US workers are content with their employers’ return-to-work plans, according to a poll by the American Staffing Association Workforce Monitor. The most important single factor that makes staff feel safe at work are social distancing measures, with 53 per cent citing tactics such as increased signage, plans for communal areas and a reduction in the number of staff in the workplaces at any one time as the most critical. But while office interiors depopulated of desks and invaded by screens will work as a MVP, more permanent, practical and purposeful solutions will have to be sought.

To that end, CBRE’s Furniture Advisory division recently spoke with 31 internal and external partners to gain insight into how they now perceive the future of office furniture. Their takeaway was the need to create new furniture systems that major on enabling collaboration and flexibility in open office spaces, featuring: a wider variety of table shapes, sizes and heights, lighter-scale materials for ease of reconfiguring, better acoustic capabilities and technology integration to ensure connectivity to remote workers. The latter also raised the need for furniture products that integrate wireless or mobile power and data solutions. As a respondent from The Senator Group outlined: ‘The importance of collaborative spaces to a company’s culture and its ability to innovate, support meaningful connections, and communication are the main drivers to return to the office.’ CBRE notes that the increased componentry and complexity in such systems will likely increase product costs going forward.

Virtual events add long-term value

The last months have seen trade show and event organizers radically experiment with what traditionally in-person, product-centred gatherings look like in a digital space. Some have disappointed; others, often from unexpected sources, have triumphed. Either way, the digitization of the industry seems set to continue with or without a vaccine. A study by UFI (the global association for the exhibition industry) and events research agency Explori found almost half of the 9,000 respondents, drawn from visitors and exhibitors across 30 countries, had attended a virtual event. Visitors have been particularly impressed by the content on offer, with 52 per cent stating that online-only events were as good as, if not better than, live events in terms of programming. Where they fall down is in their ability to foster connections, with 77 per cent of exhibitors and 83 per cent of visitors feeling the live events were better in this respect.

As for the financial viability, an alarmingly small 13 per cent of exhibitors had thus far paid to sponsor a third-party online event. The answer might not be either/or however, but rather both, with 79 per cent of visitors expressing some level of interest in attending a hybrid event as a digital-only delegate, especially if it was their first time. ‘Online and hybrid seem to have a complementary role to play alongside live events,’ said Explori’s strategy director Sophie Holt. ‘They may also have an important role to play in bringing new audiences to established events. This could form part of the customer journey, with online-only events acting as qualification and conversion tools for a flagship live event, or giving sponsors access to a totally new audience whose needs are better met by the virtual setting.’

Lights out for the night-time economy

‘Financial armageddon is to hit the night-time economy,’ says CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Michael Kill. According a study recently published by the trade body, 58 per cent of UK businesses that rely on the night-time economy believe they won’t be able to survive beyond two months without further government support. The NTIA has recently proposed guidelines for nightclubs should they be allowed to reopen, including temperature checks on arrival and mandatory face masks on the dance floor.

Despite a summer surge, the restaurant industry is equally concerned about the second half of 2020. The UK government’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme, which covers half the cost of restaurant meals up to a value of £10 Monday through Wednesday, has proved popular with diners, with 64 million meals discounted thus far according to chancellor Rishi Sunak. But many restauranteurs complain that the initiative has also decimated their weekend trade, which has a higher average bill value per table. The scheme is set to finish at the end of August. According to the Centre for Retail Research, 1,467 restaurants and casual dining outlets in the UK have closed this year – 59 per cent higher than the total for 2019. It’s a similar situation in the US, where 83 per cent of restaurant, bar and nightlife establishments in New York were unable to pay full rent last month, with 37.4 per cent unable to make any payment at all.  A new survey from the James Beard Foundation suggests only 66 per cent of independent bars and restaurants throughout the US believe they can survive through October.

Hero image: An installation for Paris nightclub Terminal 7 by Guto Requena. Photo: Pierre L'Excellent