Sam Lawson Johnston, Kinrise Co-Founder, looks at how the pandemic has fundamentally altered the future of the workspace.
The past 14 months have tried and tested our relationship with work and the workplace to the limit. Businesses are being forced to consider what it means to create a desirable working environment for their communities in the future, so whilst Covid-19 has undoubtedly turned life as it was upside down, there are significant aspects of business and the office that will now change – forever.
This period of reflection has led to an accelerated decline of the ‘bad’ office; homogenous, cookie-cutter spaces with rigid lease structures and little character are no longer suited to the modern world. With limited flexibility for businesses’ changing circumstances and few, if any, foundations for endorsing creativity, inspiration and wellbeing, commoditised office space will struggle to find demand from companies in today’s new world of work.
The pandemic has shown us that whilst working from home is perfectly feasible, rising from 20 per cent of the workforce to 70 per cent over the past year, it is not wholly desirable (as the above model illustrates). Ultimately, physical connection remains key for collaboration, productivity, knowledge transfer, culture and relationship building – all of which grow exponentially when employees work within the right environment.
However stressful or noisy it can sometimes feel, working in an office is ultimately a social activity. Those water cooler moments, discussing Line of Duty or Bake Off with colleagues, cannot be replicated at home. Nor can crucial learning and networking, which can often lead to new business opportunities, especially in a flexible, collaborative setting. Highlighting the need to establish company culture through physical presence, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, labelled remote working as an ‘aberration’ in February of this year, commenting that it doesn’t suit their ‘innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture’ and that mentorship is stilted whilst his newest recruits remain at home. Culture is not something that can be built over Zoom.
The majority of firms are therefore expected to adopt a hybrid set up, with employees splitting time between the office (three or four days) and home (one or two days), and they need office space that caters for this flexible model. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, it’s necessary for companies to take a fresh look at how much space – and what kind of space – is required by those working in the office. It’s about understanding that functionality in a workplace is much more important than decor. It’s not about copying the Google office model with colourful bean bags and extravagantly designed break-out rooms, it’s about what your employees actually need – crafting spaces in tune with the users they’re created for. We are expecting to see a net reduction in office space required of 10 to 20 per cent in the coming months as businesses reconsider their working arrangements, with a flight to quality and a focus on low-rise, characterful, talent-attracting and brand-enhancing spaces, of which there is a very limited supply across UK cities.
With sustainability rightly at the forefront of our minds, many are conscious of the spaces they inhabit in the future – preferring those with a history that has been repurposed rather than brand new glass and steel boxes. As we well know, employees and consumers vote with their feet, preferring to spend their money and time invested in companies who are responsible and considerate. Research from the Vogue Business Index 2021 found that sustainability is a greater driver of brand preference than ever before, the ‘new luxury’, as it were, for consumer decision-making.
Whilst we still have a way to go on the global scale, starting with changing the environments in which we work is necessary to prove consciousness. Our mission at Kinrise has and will always be to breathe life into existing buildings, rather than developing new ones. This means spaces are built around restoration and returning buildings to their former glory, with a real focus on natural light, subtleties of design and attention to detail, and above all, adaptive reuse. With businesses adopting a hybrid set up, it will be more important than ever to make sure they are operating within an inspiring, sustainable and highly engaging space.
In the not-so-distant future, most of us will return to an office that will be markedly different from the one we knew before this virus struck. The novelty of working from home, or working from anywhere for that matter, will have worn off and many will be keen to return to the office, albeit more flexibly. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s the importance of looking after our mental health, and that means being happy at work, where we spend most of our day. Community-focused spaces that endorse personal flourishment and wellbeing will not only attract and retain the best talent but achieve optimum financial performance for tenant companies.
We feel positive about the change this has forced in the workplace. With challenges come opportunities. Lockdown hasn’t signalled the death of the office, simply the death of the ‘bad office’.
Kinrise owns and operates buildings in high-growth cultural hubs Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, with London joining the portfolio later this year. Dedicated to the renewal of UK cities, Kinrise reimagines and restores unique, characterful properties with a design and value-led approach, striving to establish a holistic culture that embraces the needs of both solo entrepreneurs and large corporate entities, supporting company growth and personal fulfilment.