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Building of the future

Tenants, landlords and developers keep repeating these same questions: “What are the future trends and how can we design a space that is future-proof” In a Q&A, Simon Pole, global design director at Unispace, has the answers

Q. What are tenants looking for next and what should I include in the development to lure them to my buildings?

A. Our data would suggest that the four “modes of work” are not necessarily what we thought they were. Despite it being a contemporary buzzword, the office shouldn’t be all about collaboration. Sixty per cent of the office should be given over to space for “focus”.

And that is one reason why we need to challenge what office space can do in the future. There is a disconnect between what occupiers really want and what the property market feels it should offer them.

As Stuart Cranna, Europe, Middle East and Africa director of corporate services at BlackRock, says: “Asset managers need to take a different approach and put employee experience at the centre of what they’re building.”

I have been fortunate enough to work on projects globally for more than 20 years and have seen many attempts to include features that “engage” occupiers.

The first was guidance on correct fluorescent lighting to reduce eye strain from computer monitors, and an occupational health and safety poster talking about varying our focal depth every 15 minutes to avoid headaches.

Retail on the ground floor was next with the introduction of a small café, selling average coffee. Then it was sustainability, with extra fresh air and environmental monitoring. This quickly forced the ubiquitous “end of trip” facilities and towel service with bike repair stations.

Then it was the hotel-like concierge service, just in case we couldn’t walk downstairs to get an average coffee or locate the bathroom. And now we have health and wellbeing driving us crazy with standing desks and Fitbits that tell us to move and guilt us into 10,000 steps a day.

An abundance of different space models have now sprung up. We have incubators, co-working spaces, business wine bars, work clubs, child care centres, convenience stores and refrigerated online pick stations all devised to ensure occupiers are engaged.

Q. But is this really what they want?

A. Our data-led research would suggest that workers really need to be able to focus. Focus is, more often than not, the primary requirement for the majority of the working day.

What is surprising is the consistency of problems reported in the workplace, and it is the same for both co-working and conventional spaces – it is around privacy and noise control. The new “agile” worker is concerned about how they get the most out of the space, whether it is working from a pub or working from an office.

So there is no denying it; the office is going through an identity crisis. The contingent workforce is growing as some people choose to opt out of the workforce altogether, frustrated by commuting long distances and turning up to the same, unengaging workplace.

Focus is, more often than not, the primary requirement for the majority of the working day

How do we cater for the demands of this new, more agile breed of workers? They require the workplace to be productive, to engage with workmates in a positive way, but also ensure that they can get the job done.

And we are witnessing the blending of workplace and lifestyle in a way that was never previously imagined. Workers are prepared to spend longer hours at work if they are able to undertake more of those other essential life tasks in the workplace. The workplace is where we spend most of our week and if we can do our shopping, hold a virtual doctor’s appointment and practise mindfulness from our smartphone, then all the better.

Q. Are current workplaces equipped to allow us to do this and get on with our working day?

A. According to Sheree Rubinstein, the impressive chief executive of One Roof, an international co-working concept for women: “A lot of the [occupier] conversations are around the additional facilities that people need because they are not just coming to a place to work, but for the integration of work and everyday life.”

The workplace is going to evolve because technology is enabling people to live and work in a very different way. And, as an industry, we have got to be able to be forward-thinking enough to anticipate this giant leap forward.

Michael O’Driscoll, chief executive of Australian co-working operator Nous House, powered by management consulting firm Nous Group, explains: “I think the key thing is that you give people flexibility over the space. What really surprised me was how much thought is going into making the space as flexible as possible from a user perspective.”

And this is where the future seems to be going – flexibility in thought and deed. Offering occupiers exactly what they want and where they want to do it. Easier said than done, but this is the dominant challenge for our market now and in the future.

For more information visit the Unispace website here.

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