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Tumbleweed city to hotdesk pods – reimagining the great return to the office

The biggest realisation in the post-Covid workplace? Massive office space and corner office culture is a thing of the past.  The age of agile working is here, and it has great appeal for the workforce and employers alike.  This new paradigm of employee choice is empowering to individuals and teams; it has multiple benefits for business productivity, talent attraction and retention and the bottom line. It also has implications for property and space. Employers are realising that, after the initial outlay on smart design and technology, office space overheads can be cut to a fraction of what they were.  At the same time, employees are questioning what advantages going back into the office really offers.

“Now that we’ve moved out of the intense pandemic lockdown scenario, employers are finding they need to entice people back to the office after an extended period of working at home,” says Richard de Klerk, head of Occupier Services at construction solutions company Profica.  “A higher degree of flexible working arrangements offers the best of both worlds. These new hybrid working methods are creating the opportunity to transform of large expensive offices into flexible, smaller-scale work hubs.”

While much of the corporate workforce has been happily working at home, there is also a recognised need for face-to-face collaboration and people do want to return to engage with their colleagues.  However, most clients envision only a maximum of two thirds of their workforce being in the office at a time. “The appeal of the new office must be to allow people to use available spaces flexibly and effectively for their exact needs, how we work and how we interact as business colleagues. The challenge is creating an environment that people want to come back to, within constrained budgets. This is where the right technology and effective design can help occupiers go smaller, while offering a better space for the workforce.”

This means great demand for the services of de Klerk and his team as corporate occupiers reinvent workplace strategies, reimagine office spaces and adjust their leases.  The Profica Occupier Services team focuses on the needs of tenants, providing a full service suite from project management and workplace design to full turnkey and design and build requirements for global clients. Housed within Profica’s world-class Workplace Solutions division, services range from project management and interior design, to advisory services, workplace strategy and change management. Clients can opt for a full Design and Build service, offering an end-to-end solution through Profica as one central point, often the most cost-effective and time saving approach on tight lease deadlines.

De Klerk identifies the following key trends when it comes to office space:

Less space, more functionality

Clients of all sizes have been downsizing the floorspace, while upping the technology. This is driven by the fact that only two thirds of the workforce would be at the office at any time, says de Klerk. “Clients are moving to premises with a much smaller GLA, or staying put and consolidating while handing a portion back to the landlord. A client of ours took their office from 7000 squares, down to 1500 squares – a significant reduction. While less people are at work at a time, the flexibility of hotdesks is also now supplemented with other new collaboration spaces where people can work.” 

Technology smooths the changes

From booking apps to wayfinding systems to meeting rooms equipped for seamless virtual participation, de Klerk says there must be a major emphasis on technology to make smaller spaces work and facilitate a hybrid working model. Smart desks have sensors which shows when they’re occupied, and meeting rooms for virtual sessions are now so seamlessly set up, that all we have to remember is to hit ‘unmute’.”

Change management to help the workforce adjust

With a workforce demographic spanning from millennials to people that have been working for that company for the last 25 years, change management is an essential part of adjusting to new spaces and ways of working, says de Klerk.  “It’s a massive shift for people coming into an office with no personalised, allocated workspace You now need to book a desk with an app on your phone and leave your personal items in a bank of lockers. You can then change workspaces during the day, depending on your needs.” 

De Klerk says that while expert change management is essential, especially when you’re dramatically changing the way people work, it is unfortunately often seen as an add-on rather than integral to the process. “It’s best to take a holistic approach and integrate this aspect into your planning.”

Different faces, different spaces

If you’re mainly coming in to interact with others, how do teams actually find each other in the new normal?  De Klerk says hotdesk ‘neighbourhoods’ are set up that rely less on business units, and more on the types of work that team or that individual will perform at any given time. There are collaborative hotdesk sections versus quiet sections, for example. Teams can also work together in meeting rooms and other spaces.   There are a number of collaboration spaces, to theatre-style seating to break-out ottomans with laptop tables – even treadmills for active ‘jogging’ meetings! Designers can get really inventive, but it takes some adjusting.

Touchless everything

The post Covid-19 office has new health protocols in place. Typically, you’ll find automated thermal scanners, integrated sanitisers, and automated doors with touchless access control, says de Klerk. Desk placement and screens are reconsidered, and touchless appliances are used where possible in food spaces, with germ-resistant nanofilm on handles. “These items are becoming standard, and more seamlessly integrated into designs rather than an add-on. Many businesses are having these elements retrofitted in their office space. Health concerns will be with us for some time to come.”

Less personalised, but more like home

Offices are starting to look like boutique hotels as employees crave less of a utilitarian approach and design palettes echo home comforts. “Corporate formality and the ideas of what professional offices should look like have certainly softened,” says de Klerk. “We’ve Zoomed into each other’s personal spaces, and proved we can work effectively and professionally in our own homes. The office needs to be an inviting place and décor and design is vital. We’re currently working with a mining company and the main ethos behind the office design was how to make the space feel like home.”

Hello neighbours! Multi-tenancy rules.

We’re seeing new multi-tenancy within buildings, and even within floors. “We’re working on a project where a floor is now being split out to share with a new tenant. This requires additional metering and careful approaches to branding and design. Landlords are needing to get to grips with how best to use their properties.”

Looking to the future, de Klerk says that we can expect significant growth in the occupier services space,based on the last six months. Time will tell if the new approach increases productivity and efficiency as the workforce adjusts, says de Klerk. “Hybrid working has been a trend in Europe and other parts of the world for a while now. The pandemic has just accelerated that, triggering a revitalised office space approach as we reimagine how we work and move towards a far more agile model. There is a realignment of physical workplaces to really support what businesses need to thrive.”

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