New London Architecture

New NLA report glimpses workplace revolution

Tuesday 25 May 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

The future office should be flexible, safe, fun, and a contributor to people’s wellbeing, with new IT advances and remodelled meeting rooms to help cut down any ‘digital equality’ issues for those who haven’t travelled in. But overall, they must be a place for ‘purpose’, with an ‘upscale’ in design quality, more collaboration spaces and cafés replacing desks.
Those were some of the main thoughts on how office design might shape up in future in London and elsewhere in a webinar to discuss the findings of NLA’s new WRK/LDN report.

The report’s author, researcher Sarah Yates, outlined its main findings, including the need for flexibility, high levels of wellbeing and hygiene, importance of connected locations as well as the importance of affordable workspace and value of quiet spaces, almost as much as amenities. The future office, she said, citing one of the report’s contributors, John Robertson, ‘has to be better than the home’.

‘Another thing that the pandemic has shown so starkly is, is the role of the office is not a standalone element is a fundamental part of an integrated successful urban fabric’, said Yates. 

‘What is the office for is a critical question that many of us have been mulling over the past year, and it's really crystallized I think how the office has to be a place with purpose’

The zero carbon office © Scott Brownrigg
The physical and virtual are often thought of being in binary opposition, but we need to think of smarter uses of tools such as VR or AR to create ‘truly integrated, inclusive workspaces’, she added.

Puja Jain of TFL said the pandemic period had led to a ‘behavioural change’ including the way we travel, that will remain, but which brings both health benefits and also sustainable benefits for the environment. ‘So, what I see is this trend of walking and cycling to grow and continue. We definitely need to make our cities and streets safer, greener, and we need to avoid and we should avoid a car-based recovery as well, because that's not, that's not the solution’.

Jeremy Myerson of WORKTECH Academy said the report’s key findings mirrored what is also happening in New York and Tokyo. ‘The hybrid world has arrived’, he said, and it’s going to be enabled by technology’. The last year has not just accelerated trends, he said, but has figured as ‘an incredible turnaround’, with 84% of people going to work in an office every day before COVID dropping to just 9% in the future. ‘That’s an incredible switch and what we’re entering is a new world of work anywhere. It’s a new model’. Myerson calls this new workforce ‘choice champions’, with the processes and technology of work being ‘divorced’ from the building, in a world of ‘work anywhere’ and an ‘omni-channel’ way of working possible, mirroring what has happened in retail. ‘I believe is going to happen is that, in order to attract people who have a choice whether they go to the office or not, offices are going to have to up their game’. Buildings will not be full of people sat at desks sending emails, he added, but the office will be based on face-to-face activity – ‘It will be a place for purpose, a place to build culture, create networks, generate social capital’. ‘We're going to move away from amenity as a kind of corporate gym to amenity being valued based around things like flexibility and privacy’.

The London Network © Stride Treglown
Other points raised at the session included from Gwyn Richards of the City of London, who stressed the need for new workplaces to be ‘fun’, informal and accessible places. ‘They should be gentler, more humane, softer places for people’, he said. ‘We’re not going back to normality. I think we’re going back to a working environment which is much better than it was before. Much better’.

Finally, Andy Young of BIG suggested that, although no-one quite knows what will come next, what has happened in the past 12 months has been significant. ‘A revolution happened’, he said. Everybody didn’t go to offices – that was a revolution in its own right…It’s a shake-up; and a disruption of old and stable things is often a good thing. It's happened. We're living in the aftermath; we make the best of it. And I suppose, “to be continued”’. 

DOWNLOAD THE WRK/LDN: Office Revolution? report
SIGN UP TO OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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