What's next for the office?

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Is the office about to become extinct? If you believe some reports, the post covid world will need few offices. Or is it just refashioning itself to better meet our changing needs for a workspace? One thing’s for certain, office use is unlikely to return to the way it was before the pandemic.

According to PWC’s most recent survey, less than one in five executives hope to return to the office in the same capacity as before.

However, most companies aren’t willing to give up on the office space completely. In the same survey, 87% of business leaders believe the office is important for company culture.

Although, remote working has more than passed the productivity test, it eliminates social interaction and the collaborative spirit of the office environment, something that many people long for and hope to enjoy again in some way, shape or form.

For most companies the future looks set to include a hybrid model. So some days in the office mixed with some days working from home. The balance between the two will vary from business to business and it’s a policy that will take some time to evolve and find the right mix.

But surely with most business leaders resigned to this new way of working, much of the country’s office space is going to be made surplus to requirements. Deloitte’s latest

London office crane survey would suggest otherwise.
London office developments are up 20% in the six months running up to March this year. That includes 32 new schemes and 31 million sq ft of office space. More than half of these projects, though, are expected to be refurbishments.

Director in Real Estate at Deloitte, Mike Cracknell had this to say: “Many existing office buildings are capable of being turned into covid-safe and high-quality workspaces, so it is unsurprising that developers are following the more sustainable path of refurbishments.

“Occupiers’ needs are shifting and buildings that meet their ESG principles while taking into account the welfare of their people are at the top of their minds.”

Unsurprisingly, the survey predicts new working patterns are going to reduce demand for office space in terms of square footage by 10-15%. But that would be offset by the extra space needed to accommodate what workers now expect from their new office environment.

There needs to be less people in buildings to make room for social distancing, less hot desking and more collaborative space – all of which need extra space to be made workable.

Global design and architecture firm Gensler has long been thinking about what the new office space will look like and how developers can deliver on these new expectations.

Business owners need to broaden their perception of ROI and become what Gensler calls ‘invested neighbours’. Gone are the days where offices operate independently. They need to work harder to integrate the community.

And that starts in how the lobby space functions. Gensler talks of two approaches. One being the ‘Inside Out’ method, which involves creating a space that extends the company culture into the street. The lobby could take the form of a coworking space or a semi-enclosed park.

Or instead, they could adopt the ‘Outside In’ approach, where companies might look to use the space to promote local business. That could mean an event space for creatives to perform or a studio showcasing local artwork.

In both cases, businesses can redesign the lower floor to engage with the community and indicate a sincere approach to their social responsibility.

Technology will also have a big say in how future buildings function. Touch free journeys are likely to be the norm, where employees can do away with security cards and interact with the building through an app on their smartphones.

Not only will it allow access to different areas, but can also be used to book various amenities, such as meeting rooms and conference spaces.

Clean air needs to be accessed throughout the entire building now. It’s no longer just the job of the ground floor and the roof terrace. Developers who invest in new window technology, ventilation chimneys, multi-floor terraces are the ones that will attract the most tenants.

There also needs to be consideration for the way people are changing their commuting habits. More people are walking, using a bike, driving an electric car to work, so offices need to provide lockups and extra charging docks.

These types of buildings aren’t far away. Savills has recently reported on three developments nearing completion in Scotland built to a ‘high specification with significant wellness and environmental features.’

Each of the developments look set to achieve high ratings for both BREEAM (sustainability) and EPC (energy efficiency).

Cadworks in Glasgow is built around the latest research on making a workspace both physically and mentally healthier for its occupants. It’s completely powered by renewables, and will have 199 bike stations, electric bike and car charging points, as well as a cycle maintenance station.

Atlantic Square in the same city is being built with employee wellbeing front of mind, boasting a health hub, roof terrace and even a rooftop running track.

These examples are living proof the office space is far from dying. It’s evolving. Investment continues to feed into the sector and designers and developers are coming together to reimagine how these spaces protect the environment and enrich the lives of the people that use them. We can’t wait to see how things develop.

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