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Article by Zac Goodman, NorthHill
One thing we’ve learned from working from home over the past year is the way in which our surroundings have the power to shape our lives and experiences. This is why I love the built environment. When we consider the workplace, our individual experiences of what it means to ‘work from home’ will either consciously or subconsciously shape how the workplace will evolve. The UK enjoys a unique landscape of architecture where a building that has stood tall for over 400 years can be adjacent to a building that is just 400 days old. It’s an eclectic amalgamation of ideas, and the future generation of workspaces will be inspired by the things that already exist all around us, as well as ongoing innovation. It’s a coming of age.
We’re starting to see Millennials, that’s to say those born in 1980 and after, filling more and more C-Suite roles in business. For context, the first iPhone was released in 2007, and subsequent updated models have been released every year since, alongside the entire working life of this generation. This constant supply of technological innovation symbolises the high demands that this generation has come to expect from every area of life, workplaces included.
Society is still trying to predict definitively whether we will adopt a widespread flexible approach to working. Whatever the result, we will constantly need to adapt. Millennials recognise the benefits of spontaneity, so we’ll see different shapes, styles and sizes of working environments emerge. However, these working environments must remain flexible enough so they can be readily adapted in line with society’s ever-changing expectations.
Despite the hunger for constant change, if there’s one thing we know for sure about real estate, it’s the need to work around physical restraints. Looking around most cities, newly constructed skyscrapers continue to rise upwards that will house bespoke offices. However, our future workspaces won’t exclusively take shape in new buildings, but they’ll be formed by history. Creating the next generation of workplaces within a building that’s 100 years old or more is really exciting.
There are many questions which will shape outcomes. What was it built for originally? How has it been repurposed, reconfigured or reused throughout the years? And what moments in history has the building witnessed? We are observing a desire to inhabit places of heritage, with a warehouse feel. Previously, these workspaces have emulated the uniformity of a factory floor with rows of workstations and a high population density. Now, we’re starting to understand that humans require much more randomised work settings, but we can still utilise the solid foundations and design influences from old merchant warehouses, or printing presses and combine it with a modern approach to flexibility.
The allure to create the next generation of workspace in older, heritage buildings is not only thanks to the industrial look and feel of the space. It’s much more sustainable too. The construction sector accounts for 23% of global air pollution, so we have a responsibility to take a considered approach when contributing to the built environment. Trying to make an old building work as energy efficiently as a new one presents a unique set of challenges. But, in taking action in the early stages of the design process, by installing appropriate building insulation and automated HVAC systems, among other initiatives, allows for a mindful approach. Sustainable construction will only become more and more important.
The need for both physical and digital connection in the workplace cannot be underestimated. Too often, connectivity is taken for granted. Access to data in the workplace is arguably as important as access to air or water. Physically, it’s imperative that the next generation of workplace brings people together. We’ve witnessed the success of virtual communities that have been built over the year to some extent, but a different switch is flicked when humans come together in person.
Think about the energy that’s exchanged watching live sport or music, and the creativity that ensues. Additionally, when we’ve debated the success of home working, we’ve focused on the ability of individuals to fulfil their specific job roles, and not the success of the individual to contribute to the wider collective of a team. Every person has a part to play in the dynamics of a business. Our teams are comprised of those who boosts morale, spreadsheet whizzes who support operations with forensic analytics, and those who encourages the team to take a break and head out for a post-work drink. We all have our part to play outside of our basic job description, and it is this patchwork of dynamism that is lost when we work from within confines of our own home.
In years gone by, landlords could ‘let then forget’ about their tenants. Today, this is not the case. It’s more appropriate to think about tenants as subscribers who seek a service from the workplaces in which they operate. The rise of the service-led attitudes to accommodation and car hire has led to applications that reward good, quality service over low-cost service, and I believe this will apply to the workplace too.
Understandably, it requires a much higher initial investment from landlords to provide this level of service. But, there’s also a premium on offer from businesses wanting to invest in a great workplace experience. This being said, there is significant technological advancement required in order to meet this demand. The industry will have to work to shorten lead times, design speculatively between occupations and offer tenants shorter, more flexible contracts. Working with Peldon Rose at Little London, Laystall Street and Thirty Lighterman, we’ve created truly desirable spaces that are already working to achieve this. Together, we are building an understanding of the symbiotic relationship required between landlord and tenant that we’ll continue to see more of.
Over the past year, we’ve been able to support local, independent businesses that operate on the doorstep of our homes. The desire to engage in conscious purchasing will continue within the next generation of workplace. Landlords can connect workplaces to the surrounding area through experience apps that support independent business ranging from coffee shops to local gyms or wellness services. This way, the workplace can simultaneously work to rebuild the sense of community within our cities and adapt to changing consumer behaviour.
Cities are magical places where so many different cultures, backgrounds and ideas come together, and I don’t believe that the future of work will be based in suburbs. While the effects of the pandemic have been severe, it’s now important to learn from previous pandemics that have taken place throughout history, so we can build back better. It’s a catalyst that is accelerating the change that was already underway within the world of work, and if we embrace these changes, we now have the opportunity to create destinations that will allow the next generation of businesses to thrive.