Last week the NLA Expert Panel on Work met to start the new cycle of the Expert Panels supporting the NLA’s purpose to make London a better place to live, work and visit. After 18 months of uncertainty, the return to the office is gathering momentum. In the second week of September, people in the UK were returning to their offices at 90 per cent of pre-COVID occupancy. Hybrid working is certainly here to stay and presenting challenges around the change in both physical and spatial requirements, and how the pandemic will have influenced the way we use our workspace.
Our panel are from a wide range of organisations in architecture, interior design, local government, development and public realm, all with a common focus: future workplace and occupier needs. In this session panellists started discussing topics that will inform the agenda for the rest of the year.
Demand: Will occupiers taking less space become a reality?
Occupiers have long been seeking optimisation of their workplaces, but post pandemic, how has this changed? Broadly the reduction of space has not been as significant as first thought. Overall, the product is changing to meet the changing needs of the occupiers, how many people in the workspace is no longer the primary driver with other demands coming forward – not necessarily spatial. ESG and health and wellbeing remain high on the occupier agenda, alongside flexibility. The challenge will be understanding, and responding to, changing demands.
Place: How will the tenant, landlord and community relationships evolve and what will be the effect on the high street?
Clearly the pandemic has impacted local economies previously supported by the workforce, demonstrated by coffee shops and restaurants closing. The goal of creating businesses and community synergies is positive however it is challenging to make it work. The panel discussed what can be done to improve the local community engagement utilising ground floor interior and exterior spaces; and whether buildings should work harder, out of hours, and open to a wider community?
ESG: How will the environmental and social agenda evolve and what changes to governance?
Social change can be both fast and slow, however small changes can have a huge impact. Policies are likely to be driven from the ground up and staff are going to want to have their say and not wait for policies to be written. Sustainability remains high on the agenda.
Psychological: Workplace / workforce and behavioural change, what have we learned?
What is uncertain is how occupiers will want to use their buildings. Organisations are beginning to test and trial different occupancy models which will evolve over time. We have learned that productivity can be achieved from home but that innovation needs the office to thrive. People have a renewed perspective on their own wellbeing and personal safety and these criteria will impact specification.
Office specifications: How will the way we design offices and buildings evolve?
The panel discussed the topic of Cat A, Cat A+, Shell & Core delivery (is Cat A dead?); and what impact this has in terms of sustainability. Developers are looking at modular design and modular procurement. Greater diversity will be required.
The panel agreed that there were many overlapping themes that crossed all topics. The group agreed on three main topics with subheadings to capture additional discussions. We will be covering these topics in the next year and are looking forward to working with the NLA and its members to shape and inform the future of the workplace.
1. Demand: What do people want?
Drawing people back to the workplace and understanding the changes in demand both psychologically and physically.
2. Value: What do people care about?
What have we learned and how will that look in the future, including ESG, with focus on social, and diversity and inclusion
3. Specification: What will buildings look like?
Manifestation of quantitative and qualitative changes to building design, flexible offers, amenity spaces and place making.