Covid impact could lead to excessive amounts of Used Office Furniture being made available

After the Covid-19 lockdowns have finally ended, are companies going to  close down their offices en masse and encourage everyone to work from home, or will everything go back to normal and carry on exactly where we left off a year ago?  Or has Covid simply signalled the end of office working as we know it and made way for a new type of working lifestyle that is yet to be defined? Who knows? – there’s a lot of talk and a lot of different opinions.

But whatever happens, the office furniture market will probably be impacted one way or another, particularly in the short term. Many business have sadly gone under, and for sure more will follow, so this will lead to offices sitting empty simply because the occupiers are no longer trading. Then there are the companies who have managed to weather the storm and have discovered during the pandemic that home working is actually perfect for their business – I have just heard from one customer, a small firm of lawyers with an office in Central London, who’s staff have enjoyed working from home so much and have been so productive doing so,  that they have decided not to renew the office lease when it expires in a few months time. I think it’s fair to say that this is not representative of the working needs of businesses across the board because these particular people are lawyers who benefit from working in quiet isolation away from others because their work requires a high level of focus and concentration, and they also don’t have such a need to interact with colleagues on a regular basis, so this one example should not be taken as an indication of what will happen everywhere else.  Needless to say, there will surely be other companies with similar plans that will leave even more city offices empty.

All of these empty offices will probably be kitted out with desks, chairs, cupboards and other office furnishing items that will need to be scrapped, sold or given away. Perhaps some of it will be given out to staff to use at home, but most will probably be the wrong size, style or colour for home use. Furthermore, much of it these days is bench style desking and completely unsuitable for home use – see are bench desks a good investment? So, it has to be assumed there will be a glut of used furniture on the market in the near future.  More about this later.

But what about everyone else?  In the shorter term, at least, there will probably be a slowing down in the uptake of new office space and a certain amount of downsizing and shorter leases, particularly where businesses are coming towards the end of term on their current lease and want breathing space to observe the trends, access their own needs and gauge the feelings of their employees.  Companies with lease renewals will think carefully about renewing them on existing offices and possibly favour shorter leases on smaller offices.

Even if there is a significant return to the office, it is likely that many businesses will re-consider the way they use them, furnish them and arrange them. Perhaps this might come about in direct response to legislation (there is none yet but who knows what new rules governments around the world might impose if they are fearful of a repeat of this, or a new type of deadly virus if we don’t change our working habits and environments for good).  Or perhaps businesses, particularly the larger corporates whom everyone else may feel compelled to follow, might reshape the working environment in order to protect their staff against, or minimise the effects of, the possibility of a future disease.  It might just be that they want to be as sure as possible that if it does happen again, their staff can continue working from the office rather than homeworking.  Who knows, but this could take the form of spacing desks further apart, or having bigger desks, or maybe shifting back towards the 1980s when we had open plan offices that were sectioned off desk-by-desk or team by team by tall free standing screens or furniture. As such, their existing furniture might not be the right size, type or shape to enable such revisions (for example, some bench desks might not be re-configurable as stand-alone desks) so whilst this might give a big boost to new furniture sales, even more used furniture may appear on the market.

All of this is purely hypothetical. It really is too early to see how businesses are going to react and what is going to happen to the market, but the one thing I am fairly sure about is that there will be a greater than usual surplus of used furniture.  Is this a good or bad thing?  On balance, probably bad.

There are a finite number of businesses that would want to invest in used in preference to new. The biggest danger is supply outstripping demand and if that happens, there are very few longer term winners.  A large number of sellers chasing a smaller number of buyers can only have one outcome – lower prices for the buyer and lower returns for the seller.  Fabulous for the buyer, but longer term it will probably lead to a levelling out whereby the secondhand furniture trade, who only have limited storage space, will buy up only the really desirable, high value kit and everything else may have to go to landfill or recycling – a sad prospect for the environment and the seller alike.

And finally, if there is an immense take up of used desks, chairs, filing cupboards and soft seating then the likelihood is that this could have a substantial negative economical impact on the manufacturing of new office furniture products.


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