By David Kinnaird, Chief Customer Officer at essensys
Now that the UK working from home guidance has ended, attention has once again turned to what the future of the country’s office culture will look like. In my opinion, the reality is that the vision people have for how exactly flexible working will operate won’t be clear until later in the year.
There are clearly many different elements to flexible working, and flexible office space. In the case of the former, it’s possible though that at its simplest what we’re actually referring to is a working model that sees people occupy the office in larger numbers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday whilst working elsewhere on Mondays and Fridays. This has been dubbed the TWT model. There is evidence that the Government expects this to be the case too, and to help with the return to offices, it’s started working with train operators to offer flexible season tickets. However, when I looked for my own commute these don’t look quite flexible, or cheap enough as yet! Of course, many companies have operated on a fully remote basis since the pandemic broke out last year and the long-term impact of this remote working on productivity is still to be truly felt and known. I certainly want to return to the office, and many I speak to feel the same way.
As the working from home guidance ended on July 19th, many businesses are trialling a ‘soft’ hybrid working model throughout the, traditionally quieter, summer holiday period. It could mean we don’t see how hybrid working will be implemented on a wider scale in the long-term for months to come and whether TWT becomes the standard for all.
And so, now presents an opportunity for businesses to test how they will put in place hybrid working, and understand exactly what technologies and working practices need to be put in place for such models to be a success. Secure digital infrastructure, desk-booking systems, occupancy monitoring systems and/or heatmap technology, and digital and physical security systems are just some of the technologies businesses should consider, and put in place, throughout this period of assessment, in preparation for the longer-term.
Meeting occupier demands during the trial period
As we enter this soft trial period of flexible working, above all else, it is integral that occupier demands and expectations are met by landlords and space providers. If not, then hybrid working will likely not reach its full potential, and landlords could yet again have empty spaces on their hands.
Tenants’ expectations and needs have changed, in line with the whole office culture transforming thanks to the pandemic. Countless numbers of staff have worked remotely for well over a year now, but now companies want their staff back in offices, while trying to address the fact that much of their staff have enjoyed remote working. It is crucial in order to attract and retain employees that a hybrid working balance is struck. A reluctance from staff to work five days a week in an office and face long, sometimes expensive commutes, ensures that hybrid working is here to stay.
It has become apparent that occupiers are seeking spaces that provide the best experiences for their staff, as a key factor in them being enticed even more so to return to the office.
The campus style office
The key experience being called for is heading in the direction of a campus-style place of work, rather than a single location office.
In truth, it is rare that a single office can provide all that occupiers demand. The answer to this conundrum for both tenants and landlords is to connect multiple sites within a city, or even county or country so employees can access what they need to in places that are most convenient for them. In a company’s campus, the workspace isn’t limited to the amenities in just one building, but is expanded across all the buildings available within a portfolio. In this environment, both resident and flexible tenants can have access to a wide range of services that are accessible across the campus.
This style of workplace will have a positive impact on the number of flex adopters. Ibrahim Yate, Senior Analyst in the Verdantix Smart Building practice, agrees. He says: “A campus increases the exposure to flex space instead of having it all centralised at one location that may be inconvenient for the majority of the workforce to get to. Workers can use a regular office one day and a flex office the next day, and compare the two. This is important for the trend of a dispersed workforce because you need to have locations near where people live.”
If such considerations can be implemented during this ‘soft trial’, then a hybrid working model will be far more successful in the long term.
Adopting flex to utilise occupier’s space
It remains largely unclear, for both occupiers and landlords, how exactly space will be utilised in the long run. The next few months will help bring this into sharper focus. What I do predict though is that space will be utilised to offer the experience and amenities that staff want.
For example, amid lockdowns there was much talk of less office space being needed across the board because it was thought there would be less staff returning to the office. An occupier with 30,000 sq ft of space would likely have expected to need 5,000 sq ft less, thanks to flexible working, but actually, it’s becoming clear that they need the same amount of space to offer the amenities and experience their staff want.
With this in mind, it is crucial that landlords and tenants alike become aligned on how space can be utilised effectively, to meet the changing demands of workers. In turn, landlords must adapt their proposition and identify the right tools and technology that enable them to deliver on occupier requirements quickly and efficiently.
I expect this shift to experience and service focused office environments to result in a wider uptake of the space-as-a-service model. We may well see a trend where businesses own their core space, but hire out additional, flexible spaces to ensure the full complement of an office space is being monetised and used effectively.
Technology is the backbone of the in-building experience
It’s important that landlords undergo somewhat of a transformation, from asset owners to experience providers, in this new way of working. Technology infrastructure that provides cutting edge security, both physically and digitally, as well as seamless connectivity is essential.
During this soft trial, if offices are going to be appealing and productive for staff members, it is important that landlords can implement cutting edge digital infrastructure and technologies such as sensors, data analytics and AI tools, which can monitor staff levels in different spaces instantly, to ensure spaces are busy but also safe and productive at any one time.
Of course, technology must also be adopted to ensure that connectivity and ways of working are consistent throughout the entire portfolio of office locations. Staff will want to be able to have access to buildings with one pass, for example, and be able to use room and desk booking systems that allow them to reserve space across multiple buildings, for work purposes and to enjoy the amenities. Inconsistent experiences and service performance across the office portfolio could lead to frustrations, and spaces occupied more densely than others, if a particular space is easier to work with for staff.
The coming months provide an opportunity for landlords to assess what occupiers are demanding, adapt their propositions and implement the right software and technology infrastructure to ensure they remain relevant in the new, TWT hybrid working world.