The NLA Expert Panel on Work
convened on 13th July 2020 for the first session with the objective to provide thought-leadership on the future design and delivery of office space for London.
The timing could not be better; Covid has unwittingly provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to ‘get it right’. It has been long predicted that the future working environment will be driven by the employee’s choice to achieve better balance and wellbeing in their working lives. Arguably, the pandemic has just accelerated the evolution in workspace design that would have occurred over the next few years, and people are likely to come out of this crisis wanting the ability to choose and with new resolve. This is the time to get it right - people are the heart of an organisation and its success; we must harness the advantages of working differently to create an environment to support business growth and create a resilient workforce.
Our panel experts 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. NLA ‘Expert Panel on Work’ Chair Katrina Kostic Samen welcomed and thanked the panel, introducing three key questions that she wanted to explore.
1. What are key occupier concerns and what issues are clients asking about?
The panel all agreed on the vital role of the physical office, and much of the feedback has been around “when” not “if” we return to the workplace, although what that will look like is yet to be determined, we are only at the beginning.
The panel all agreed that safety and cleanliness is high on the agenda and that staff needs should be prioritised. The office will need to give people a reason to return and draw them back, and whilst that may sound somewhat broad-brush there is a further facet to be considered – attention to the individuals rather than a companywide approach; there will not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Emma Lange, Leasing Manager, Derwent, highlighted that different personalities have different needs. Many of the front facing teams at Derwent, typically extroverted, are back at work however what she queries what could be done to encourage more introverted staff to return to the office.
2. What do we think the changes to the design of the workplace will be in both the mid-term and the future?
Unsurprisingly the consensus was that change would be broad but as yet unclear what it will look like. It is certainly time to seize the opportunity and create multi-layered, human centric, inclusive, enriched and curated environments with choice and variety, that are not just flexible but hyper-flexible.
80% of staff at Stride Treglown responded to a survey saying they would not choose to come to the office 5 days a week. Whilst agile working does enable people to achieve a better balance, it will also effect the size and shape of the workplace.
Inevitably this brings the question of co-working and suburban hubs into play. Co-working spaces have inevitably been impacted by the pandemic but what role can they play in the office of the future? To be further explored by the panel.
3. How will the wider architectural development and new build solutions respond to post Covid research?
In shared amenities, we have seen two immediate responses, the first positive, in requests for additional cycle spaces and the other, less welcome, for extra car parking. The sentiment is well understood however the positive impact that Covid has had on the environmental movement should not be eradicated.
Public realm should be considered as an extension of the office and occupiers be encouraged to be as creative with external space as they are with their future offices; public space and the ecology of the business district will factor in to the success of returning to offices.
There will be a challenge: two groups pulling in different directions – investors/tenants – long lease/short lease – future space will have to respond. How will local planning authorities respond to help shift the change in employees coming back to the office?
Katrina invited the panel to consider further topics: example of cities that illustrate ‘what good looks like’; what can the NLA Expert Panel on Work provide as unique in this discussion; and are there other relevant discussions / topics that should be considered.
The panel were invited to join sub-groups to take these topics further as agenda items for future sessions. Exciting times ahead!