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New London Architecture report signals flexible future

The London office sector suffered in the pandemic but now has the opportunity to ‘build back better’ with a focus on smart, sustainable, adaptable and affordable workspace, says a new NLA report

‘The office is not dead, but it will surely evolve.’ That is the key message to emerge from a major new report from NLA (New London Architecture) on how workspaces across London have adjusted amid the Covid-19 pandemic and how they will need to adapt for the future.

NLA’s ‘WRK/LDN Office Revolution?’ report, written by researcher Sarah Yates, suggests that London’s workspaces should become more welcoming, sustainable, smart, affordable and flexible to support the capital in its recovery as a leading global business centre.

Building back better

Based around the results of an NLA Members Survey of more than 180 built environment professionals, and a series of interviews with experts in the field, the report brings to light the key challenges the London workplace sector is facing in order to ‘build back better’.

It predicts that ‘flexibility and sustainability in every aspect — not just space and layout but also leasing, management and location — will be key attributes of the resilient office, as will a focus on accessibility, inclusivity, affordability and, not least, health and wellbeing.’

Accelerating existing trends

NLA last surveyed the London workspace sector in 2016, recommending that there should be growing focus on affordable spaces for new and expanding businesses, on new mixed use typologies and on the wellbeing agenda part of planning policy. Five years on, NLA concludes that the current picture echoes and reinforces these important themes. This perspective presents Covid-19 less as a disruption to the London office market and more as an accelerator of existing trends.

The NLA Members Survey revealed that, before the pandemic, 84 per cent of people worked five days per week in the office, but only nine per cent intend to do so after the crisis is over. This is a massive shift; indeed, 77 per cent of respondents favour a hybrid model with two to three days a week in the office.

People in the survey described the most positive aspects of working from home as work-life balance and the ability to concentrate, but stress levels have risen and collaboration has suffered. Respondents said they needed the office most for learning and mentoring, and, above all, for in-person collaboration with their team. Flexibility emerged from the survey as the top priority for the London workforce, above safety, health and hygiene.

‘Offices will continue to exist, but will be designed in a richer and wider variety of ways…’ – Dr Frank Duffy

In his foreword to the report, New London Architecture curator-in-chief Peter Murray makes reference to workplace guru Dr Frank Duffy, who wrote prophetically in 1997: ‘In the cities of the 21st-century, offices will continue to exist, but will be designed in a richer and wider variety of ways — as streets, villages, colleges, and clubs — to encourage interaction.’ The NLA report signals a future in which there will be more variety and richness in the design, operation and location of London workspaces.

Access New London Architecture’s ‘WRK/LDN Office Revolution?’ report here

The report was launched on 19 May 2021. Watch an expert panel discussing the report at NLA’s virtual launch event here.

The panel is chaired by Peter Murray of NLA and features Puja Jain, Senior Property Development Manager, TfL; Jeremy Myerson, Director, WORKTECH Academy; Gwyn Richards, Planning and Development Director, City of London; and Andy Young, Technical Director, BIG.

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