Don’t let standards slip with new design

By Richard Kauntze, chief executive of the British Council for Offices

The evolution of the workplace over the past 25 years has largely been characterised by an increasing understanding that the office must work for the people using it. For any business, staff are the primary asset and cost, so ensuring the working environment enables them to thrive is crucial.

While the modern employee can often just as easily log on remotely from their kitchen table as work from a dedicated office space, recent research shows that less than a third of the modern workforce would like to work from home. Most people want the collaborative space and conviviality that an office brings and, while its form will change, its function as the home of business will remain.

So what does this mean for the future of the office?

Certainly the rise of technology will continue to shape the places where we work. As computers have evolved from rare desktop-bound giants to prolific pocket-sized phones, so too have the spaces from which we work.

Buildings must continue to accommodate these shifts, evolving to become more technologically porous as wireless and wearable devices influence the shape of the future office. In a recent PwC survey, 49 per cent of people believed these advances will increase workplace efficiency, and the British Council for Offices’ own research shows such technologies could significantly improve productivity, efficiency and safety through leveraging business data.

Only around 2 per cent of commercial buildings completed since 2010 represent best practice for sustainability

The sustainability agenda is another factor driving office change, developing from a niche concern among passionate activists to a fundamental pillar of many developers’ business models. The near-universal acceptance of sustainability’s importance has led to new buildings outperforming their predecessors, but looking less self-consciously green, given it is no longer a credential which sets them apart.

But we cannot allow sustainability excellence to slip; reviewed against the latest BCO Guide to Specification (2014), only around 2 per cent of commercial buildings completed since 2010 represent best practice for sustainability. Developers must continue to aim for excellence within these updated specifications, ensuring offices deliver both practically and environmentally for the future.

The future design quality of workplaces will be more important than ever before. From the technology we carry with us daily, to the intuitive digital experiences that are now so present at work and home, people are increasingly discerning of great quality design and expect that to translate to their workplace.

Though inevitably the lens through which the aesthetic quality of offices is judged shifts, there are fundamental and enduring basics to get right. Generous ceiling heights, quality of natural light and the character of the floorplate are all areas where buildings are being enhanced to deliver a better product.

Office occupiers and developers must be equipped to keep pace with the rise of technology and adapt to the needs of an ever-changing workforce. In doing so, we can ensure the office is not only a place where employees choose to work, but a place that works hard for the people using it.