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The workplace ecosystem: extinction or reinvention?

The old way of working – your own desk and a job for life – is gone. Mark Simpson encourages office developers and landlords to adapt to survive.

03/03/2020 3 min read
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The workplace is fluid, in transition. Technological and digital advances have disrupted the established norms, swept away traditional ways of working and, with it, how office buildings are designed and operated.

We live in an information overload society, a 24/7 world of ‘infobesity’, where it is almost impossible to switch off. Workplace stress accounts for 44% of all work-related illnesses. Employers across all sectors are therefore in favour of a looser and freer workplace paradigm, which places new emphasis on the work/life balance of their employees and their mental and physical wellbeing. The newly updated BCO Guide to Specification is rightly seen as the bible for best practice in the design of offices in the UK and beyond. However, the benchmarks and standards it sets out are in constant flux as more is expected from intelligent buildings in the support of wellbeing, sustainability and flexibility.

The old way of working – your own desk and a job for life – is gone. The new fluid workforce expects and demands more flexibility and choice in where, when and how to work. They expect organisations to embrace sustainability and wellbeing. In turn, employers had to respond, to evolve an ecosystem to support these ideals in order to attract, motivate and retain talent. Employees have become their customers.

The newly updated BCO Guide to Specification is rightly seen as the bible for best practice in the design of offices in the UK and beyond

Occupiers also expect a more serviced offer in order to support their organisations, the ante being upped by the rise of the serviced office or managed space operators. This coworking model has seen an unprecedented boom over the last few years. Once the domain of IWG/Regus and a select few, the entire sector is now personified by WeWork. This incredible rise has caught many traditional landlords and even agents on the hop. So much so that many of them, including CBRE, JLL, British Land and Landsec are developing their own serviced offers, competing alongside new brands such as Fora and Knotel. Regus is now one sub-brand under the IWG banner alongside Spaces and others.

Putting aside WeWork’s recent troubles, their influence has been seismic. This sector now accounts for a huge proportion of commercial space in the world’s major cities; 17% in London and 8% in Manhattan. WeWork is the biggest leaseholder in both cities, with 4.1million sq ft and 7.7million sq ft respectively, in a sector that is growing by 20% year on year. Contrary to the popular belief that they are occupied by start-ups, many corporate organisations now use the coworking model, often managing whole buildings with such providers. Regardless of whether this market will continue to grow at such an astonishing rate or if WeWork will remain the sector leader, it cannot be disputed that this model has raised the bar for those who develop and operate the corporate workplace, and for those who design them.

We have a long history of designing for owner-occupiers and firms occupying speculative buildings. We place great emphasis on understanding how a business functions, along with their aspirations and appetite for embracing new ideas and innovations, and to what extent a change in their working practices may be required to enable greater efficiencies and to unlock employee benefits. Embracing change and new working methods has fundamental implications on all areas of business infrastructure, not just from HR to IT, security and hospitality. Meaningful transformation must begin with the people. We seek to engage with the needs of ‘supply’ as well as ‘demand’ before we put pen to paper. We design from the inside out. There are no cookie cutters, no ‘one size fits all’. We understand from working with many enlightened, progressive organisations, both public and private, that the needs of their people come first and that supporting wellbeing, embracing innovation, promoting empowerment and adopting sustainable practices are of paramount importance to them.

The occupier – indeed the employee – is now king. Corporate workplaces are, by necessity, becoming more employee-centric. Developers and landlords must adapt to this new paradigm – they can no longer dictate what is on offer or they risk extinction. That rebellion is well underway.

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