According to recent research, average office occupancy levels have increased from almost zero in January 2021 to 20% in May. But the idea of a 5-day week seems about as alien to the population now as full-time remote working was 18 months ago. While some businesses are forgoing the need for an office for now, reaping back operational costs and sitting tight in a time of economic uncertainty, others have been proactively assessing their future needs, adapting and in many instances entirely overhauling their real estate strategies with ambitions to bring people back part-time.
Workplace designers are about to take on some of their most exciting and challenging briefs. The office has got to work harder than ever before to tempt people out of their homes. Companies need to create spaces people want to be in; where they experience work in a way that can’t be achieved from even the best purpose-built home office.
The shift in emphasis of space as a strategic asset and not just a place for desks is meteoric.
A PART-TIME REVOLUTION
For the most part, we know that employees want balance. Working from home at least some of the time has proved invaluable, especially to those with care responsibilities who can manage their time and efforts in a way that enhances family and work life. But we also know that many people are excited to return to the office (22% according to LinkedIn’s recent research) and another third “just want normality to resume”.
Employers are making plans. In fact, 85% of 2000 surveyed employees had already been given a date by which their employer expects them to be back in the workplace – over a third set to return this summer and a further 16% by the end of the year. But ‘back to work’ is inevitably a mix of occasional, part, time and full-time office presence. Anyone who had hoped the government would agree to a ‘default right to flexible working’ was disappointed in June when the suggestion was tabled and thrown out. Hybrid working doesn’t work for every business so flexible working policies have to be led by business leaders who now have the task of balancing employee satisfaction with business requirements and growth aspirations. (link to 10 things to consider blog)
OUT WITH THE OLD
So how are employers looking to tempt their workforce back to headquarters? Those looking for new space are attracted to alluring amenities, smart technology, access to health and wellbeing facilities and other indulgences such as bars and restaurants either in the building or its vicinity.
Landlords, investors and fund managers have been turning office blocks into destinations for some time, but with two-thirds of London’s commercial real estate built more than 20 years ago, older buildings are looking less desirable.
At the very least, landlords are improving ventilation and access to natural light to enhance the workplace experience while some are making major investments to ensure their portfolio answers the many demands of the post-pandemic workforce.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
Mayfair Capital have recently invested £13.3m in the complete refurbishment of 43 Church Street West, now known as FORGE. It’s repositioning focuses on creating a design-led and sustainable workplace for creatives, innovators and leaders, keeping user experience at the heart of the transformation.
The project – a collaboration between Mayfair Capital, V7 Asset Management, Hawkins\Brown and Thirdway – comprised a part atrium infill, full internal and external refurb, and a Cat A+ fit-out of the tired, amost-80,000 sq ft office block.
FORGE includes a unique bike ramp that allows users to ride directly from street to shower space, a café and communal space for occupiers to indulge in freshly roasted coffee and nutritious cuisine, a yoga studio for mental and physical wellbeing, and The Grid – a playful, multi-level breakout and coworking space within the stunning atrium. In line with Mayfair Capital’s ESG objectives, it was designed and delivered to achieve BREEAM Excellent rating, Fitwel 2*, EPC B, Wiredscore Platinum and Cyclescore Platinum too.
Every aspect has been tailored to the contemporary needs of its occupiers which has paid off with the majority of the first floor already under offer and advanced negotiations on the pre-fitted space.
Workplace designers are under pressure to design spaces that tick a growing number of boxes.
With the growth of hybrid working, more dispersed workforces, and an enduring unpredictable economy, the hottest topic is flexibility. As the world around us alters, businesses investing in space are shifting awareness from a “final outcome” mindset to an understanding that an office is a dynamic and ever-evolving space. Occupiers want the freedom to reconfigure their space as and when they need to adapt to change – be that daily, monthly or annually – so designers are being pushed to find new ways to futureproof schemes and implement sustainable, adaptable elements.
“Furniture that can flex to different requirements while also looking stylish and offering comfort, makes a space more adaptable to the wide range of working styles found in a company. In the past, modular furniture took on a more utilitarian aesthetic where function over form was obvious. Now, there are beautifully designed pieces emerging and the balance between function and form is evening out.” – Mark Hobbs, Tribe Furniture
According to a recent study by essensys, only 27% of occupiers moving into flexible space are fully satisfied with the ability to leverage their own brand. While many companies are keen to move into tenant-ready space, they also want to have autonomy over the design so they can reflect their DNA in their surroundings.
SPACE FOR AMAZING THINGS TO HAPPEN
Key to future office design is the ability to enhance user experience and promote productivity.
- The introduction of technology for things such as building access, booking systems, and on-demand amenities complement the basic need to be able to communicate effectively face to face and digitally.
- The aesthetics of space can aid productivity with colours, moods and design elements like biophilia inspiring different ways of working, thinking, and focusing.
- Front-of-house may need extra attention. Bringing teams back into the office is often about bringing them closer to clients and stakeholders so having space to network and showcase ability is good for business.
- Spaces need to promote wellness, collaboration and community, not just to tempt existing staff back but to attract and retain people in a talent war that will only get fiercer as the disparity between company benefits gets wider.
- With only a 12% chance of two employee being in the office at the same time if they both work remotely 3 days a week, work-life has to become more curated so the environment needs to be the perfect engagement platform to make that happen. Random workplace engagement will fail.
- While good transport links and good coffee are important to tenants, it’s cultural elements that appeal to the social, physical, and psychological needs of individuals that will draw the population out of their homes as they recover their appetite for new experiences.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
While we are, first and foremost, interior designers, we’re part of a network of architects, furniture dealers, proptech experts, managed service providers, and experiential property marketing specialists. Our workplace consultancy, design and delivery teams help tenants define and create their perfect workspaces, and as tenant engagement specialists we also support landlords in repositioning, refurbishing, marketing vacant space, or preparing buildings for sale.
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