The Big Question

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What can the commercial sector learn from public sector workplace transformation?

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FRANKO COVINGTON, ASSOCIATE PRINCIPAL AND SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, HKS 

The public healthcare sector is having to rapidly adapt to changes in funding mechanisms, which in turn will change their methodology for redevelopment. As PFI is no longer an option, NHS Trusts are having to think of new sources of capital. One potential solution is using their estates to generate income to fuel future development. Designing for adaptability is key to unlocking this potential, allowing a flexible forecast of clinical, research, workplace and other types of uses. 

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TERRY GUNNERY, DIRECTOR OF DESIGN, STRATEGY PLUS, AECOM 

As the design world becomes more digital, gathering and applying data will be essential to ensure efficient design, construction, maintenance and day-today use of an office estate. Government Hubs are leading with digital tools – BIM significantly – across their workplace transformation programme nationally to strengthen collaboration between the developers, the array of designers and consultants, and contractors throughout the project life cycle to provide insight, to empower civil servants and ultimately manage the assets dynamically. 

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ROSIE HASLEM, DIRECTOR, SPACELAB 

The public sector drive to demonstrate the value of investment in workplace projects means that there is not only an appetite to do things properly in the first place (user engagement, robust data-driven strategies, sensible programmes), but to also measure the impacts of change through post-occupancy evaluations. The insights gleaned from these enable ongoing optimisation as a space is lived in – and can provide wider learnings for other projects. 

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CHRIS AGER, DIRECTOR, IDEA 

The Cabinet Office has been steadily moving through the gears, laying the groundwork for the transition to the GPA’s centrally-managed property model. This has seen the adoption of ratio working as common practice and an understanding that workplace can be anywhere, provided the right tools are in place. The public sector provides a foundation for delivering transformation programmes on the strength of a universal philosophy (generally) that efficient public spending should be at its heart – not always the cornerstone of commercial sector work. 

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GRAHAM SHAW, MANAGING DIRECTOR, WILLMOTT DIXON

I’m always impressed by the vision public bodies have in giving new purpose to old property no longer fit for use. They deliver a sense of ‘place’ by creating flexible, less formal spaces that have a coworking feel, and drive wellbeing. The sector knows its investment will attract new people and business, thereby revitalising local economies. Taking a long-term view on the positive impact of workspace transformation when they make an investment in creating new space is something we can give public bodies huge credit for. 

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MAX STEWARD, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BW: WORKPLACE EXPERTS

We should remember that agile working began in the public sector, although it was called hot desking then (see Working Without Walls by Frank Duffy). The public sector is much better at the front end with pre-occupancy studies and planning design, leading to far fewer changes to initial schemes in the build of projects. In my experience, the public sector is also better at post-occupancy studies, to learn from experiences and to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the scheme.