Place

Occupier message: the office remains vital but it needs to change

In our weekly WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing, we look at new employee research which supports a return to the office, the emergence of the smart building, and former Apple design chief Jony Ive’s class of 2020

In the latest of our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, created to reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we share perspectives on the latest developments in work and workplace. This edition is posted 21 July 2020.

Limits to working from home

A certain twitchiness in real estate circles on both sides of the Atlantic about future demand for office space in the post-pandemic era is understandable given what has happened since lockdown.

But there is some reassurance this summer in the shape of new research from Savills and Gensler which suggests that there are limits to working from home and that the office still has an important role to play in organisational life. Both reports share one clear, consistent message – the office remains vital but it needs to change.

According to property agent Savills’ Office Fit survey, conducted five-to-six weeks into the lockdown, nearly nine out of ten respondents believe the office will remain necessary. Savills predicts that ‘There could be up to a 10 per cent reduction of office desk space, although on balance we believe the impact on total space will be negligible.’ The future working model will be a hybrid one, with lower desk space densities and adaptations to office design to prioritise wellbeing and address the needs of a more agile and mobile workforce.

Architectural firm Gensler’s Work from Home Survey 2020, meanwhile, reports that only 12 per cent of US workers want to work from home full-time. Most employees want to return to the workplace, but with critical changes. These adaptations include less density and more assigned workspace for social distancing – and measures to address noise and distraction that were already diminishing performance pre-coronavirus.

‘Measures must address noise and distraction that were already diminishing performance pre-virus …’

The Gensler research suggests that what people miss most about the office is holding scheduled meetings and impromptu socialising with colleagues face-to-face, as well as accessing technology and being part of a community.

Nearly half of the 2,300 US workers surveyed – 44 per cent – want no days at home per week. Interestingly, younger generations feel less productive and less satisfied with the work-at-home-experience than older ones –a reflection perhaps that younger employees have smaller, more compromised living accommodation.

What both reports add up to is a picture of pushback against initial corporate enthusiasm for a total pivot towards working from home, as showcased by tech firms like Twitter and Facebook. There is now a cooler assessment of what the office brings to the working mix and a steadier focus on a more blended approach.

This will be good news for the millions of small businesses that rely on large office populations in business districts, which have been deserted since March. According to The Economist, for every knowledge job in a city centre company, there are five other jobs which are dependent on that position – from medics to sandwich makers and dry cleaners. Offices for knowledge workers prop up an entire economic ecosystem and abandoning them now will be hugely damaging. What is needed is evolution, not extinction.

Access the Savills report here and the Gensler report here.

Can smart building unlock the future?

One of the key levers to reshape the way office complexes are designed, built and operated is the emergence of the smart building. Global energy management automation specialist Schneider Electric has been working with consulting firm Unwork and WORKTECH Academy on a new report, Smart Working, which examines the role of the smart building in relation to the future of work in the post-pandemic era.

You can get in-depth briefing on the ideas contained in the report, which is launched this summer, by attending WORKTECH’s latest live webinar. This is entitled The Smart Advantage and takes places on 30 July 2020. It features Cormac Crossan of Schneider Electric and Spencer Levy of CBRE in conversation with Jeremy Myerson, Director of WORKTECH Academy. More details here.

Jony Ive curates new talent

Sir Jony Ive, Apple’s legendary former design chief, is the man responsible for a series of game-changing innovations including the MacBook, iPod, iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch. So, what does he think are among the best new creative ideas of 2020?

Ive, who is Chancellor of the Royal College of Art in London, has curated an online collection of new work by RCA graduates under the heading ‘Optimistic, Singular and New’. It includes projects by artists, designers and architects developed during the pandemic.

Ive notes: ‘There is a clarity and boldness that perhaps speaks to the absence of familiar tools or the usual distractions…To reconsider fundamental approaches to their work at a time of complete chaos and uncertainty demonstrates a remarkable drive and resolve and is ultimately a victory for creativity in its many areas of practice. This is a particular body of work that I believe will be regarded as significant in the future.’

The work ranges from an urban monastery and an alternative to residential high-rise to new typeface and vehicle design. See Jony Ive’s RCA collection here.

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