GUEST BLOG: By Amanda Lim, Head of Knight Frank’s Flexible Office Solutions Team
Last year, as working from home proved a useful stand-in, the ‘death of the office’ narrative took hold. Sensationalist debates murmured along – until the WFH novelty wore off. We watched ever-decreasing doses of collaboration cling to glitchy video calls. We struggled to muster up innovative, new ideas in our monotonous, remote world. And we missed the office chatter that connected us to the bigger picture.
Now, businesses are beginning to re-visit their workplace strategies with a greater sense of purpose and balance, moving past knee-jerk reactions, thinking long-term and recognising that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. So, what will their new office space demands be? How will their expectations change? And what’s driving these shifts?
Occupier expectations in a post-Covid world of work
Businesses continue to need to stand out from the crowd in order to attract and retain the best of the best. Office space is a strategic way to do that, which is why occupier expectations are partly influenced by employee demands.
Now, more so than ever, ambitious minds want engaging, high-quality environments. Green-conscious individuals want corporations to demonstrate their sustainability initiatives. And enthusiastic employees want to learn from and collaborate with those around them.
The pandemic has accelerated these employee-led workplace trends. With many of us beginning to view our post-Covid working lives differently, here are five occupier expectations that are likely to shape the future of the office.
1. Variety and choice
The past 12 months have highlighted the extent to which employees value variety and choice. In 2020, a Knight Frank poll of 2,134 respondents revealed that only 8% of employees want to work from home five days a week, while 79% of respondents said they wanted their working lives to involve a blend of working from home and the office.
Flexibility is crucial in the future of work – ultimately because it provides employees with the autonomy they need to be productive. And that level of flexibility won’t just need to apply to flexible working policies and flexible office contracts. We’re speaking to business who want flexibility around location, such as multi-site access, and others who want agile working environments that offer more than basic desk space.
2. Biophilic office design and sustainability
Increasingly, the post-Covid war for talent will be won by businesses who can demonstrate their commitments to the sustainability agenda. As today’s workforce becomes more environmentally conscious, businesses might look for green office space that helps them achieve their carbon commitments.
Offices that feature biophilic design – such as plants, outdoor green space and big windows – make much more engaging environments, too. But not only are they aesthetically pleasing, biophilic office design actually boosts wellness, physical health and immunity, which are paramount as our focus on health continues to grow against the pandemic’s backdrop.
On top of that, office space that facilitates a sustainable commute by offering bike storage, showers and lockers are likely to be considered the norm, too, especially if teams want to avoid public transport. In fact, offices that celebrate the ‘life’ in ‘work-life balance’, or simply consider the world beyond their physical workspaces, will have a competitive edge in attracting businesses.
3. Collaboration space
After we started waving goodbye on our video calls, it was clear that our hunger for connection and collaboration wasn’t being met in the virtual world of work. In fact, surveys have shown that ‘collaboration’ and ‘interacting with colleagues’ were cited as primary reasons employees were eager to return to the office.
As we emerge from the pandemic, offices will help us rebuild our depleted levels of social capital. In that light, it’s no surprise that 53% of UK businesses surveyed by Knight Frank said they hoped to include a greater amount of collaboration space in their future workplace strategies.
However, so long as social distancing is required, its unlikely that all teams will be in the office at the same time. Our offices will still need to seamlessly connect remote employees with in-office employees. As a result, tech-enhanced offices will be in demand; in fact, some flexible office providers have already begun to enhance their video conferencing facilities.
4. Amenities and experience
Now that the office’s function has come into sharp focus, its set to undergo an evolution. Offices will fulfil our innate need to celebrate the human elements of business: empathy, humour, creativity and innovation.
Working from home consistently over a sustained period is unlikely to drive innovation, creativity and collaboration. However, there are some employees who might feel reluctant to re-introduce an hour-long commute to their day, which is why the ‘office experience’ will be paramount to incentivising those to invest in the time and train fare.
Services and amenities will play a crucial role in shaping that experience; community initiatives, networking opportunities, fitness studios and social events all add up, and many flexible office providers have historically demonstrated this well. Hospitality has a part to play, too; offices that feel more like hotels than they do workspaces will have an advantage. Businesses want high-quality, well-designed office space.
5. Health and wellness
We’ve spent the past year worrying about our health. Though our mental wellbeing has been challenged by lockdown’s monotony and isolation, some of us have adopted new exercise regimes or mindfulness activities to relieve our stress levels and keep calm. As we return to the workplace, it’s likely we’ll continue this holistic focus on wellbeing, prioritising it more than we did before.
Thankfully, businesses are beginning to take the responsibility of employee wellbeing into their own hands, and the right office space can facilitate that. In fact, many flexible office providers catered to this pre-Covid with yoga classes, meditation rooms and other wellbeing initiatives.
And of course, the Covid-secure workplace will be of paramount importance. As businesses continue to mitigate the risk of infections, our expectations for hygiene standards and cleaning regimes have reached new heights. The luxury of relying on a specialist workplace provider to deliver that is bound to incentivise occupancy, especially for smaller businesses who don’t have the necessary experience or manpower.