When people start to return to the workplace in the coming months, they will be seeking a very different environment. An enforced lengthy period of working from home has had a profound impact on what we want and expect from our workspaces. To meet today’s needs, it is up to developers and landlords to offer the spaces businesses need to be as productive as possible amid a fundamental cultural shift.
The attitude to a return to the workplace has shifted during the past year of lockdowns and social distancing. When the first lockdown was announced, industry pundits quickly hailed the end of mandatory office working.
As time has passed opinions have changed and continue to evolve as the impact of enforced home working is better understood by business leaders. There is now a real desire from many people to return to the workplace, a yearning for human interaction in real life rather than through a screen. Employers recognise this desire, it seems. According to Knight Frank, 90% of respondents to its recent global occupier survey still regard real estate as a strategic device.
However, it is unlikely that workplaces will return to their original format and, as businesses adopt a more agile style of working, ‘hybrid’ models (a combination of working from home and office working) will potentially become the norm, particularly for those businesses within the professional services sector. The question for developers and landlords is how they can create the right properties and encourage businesses to rethink their space, rather than make it redundant.
Cat A+: Plug and play
An increasingly popular proposition, and one which we’re exploring with workplace design and fit-out company, Design Tonic at the final phase of our development at Sheffield DC, Endeavour, is Cat A+. This is essentially a ‘plug and play’ space aimed at businesses seeking their own private space rather than the short-term workspaces offered by co-working operations. It offers a balance between an empty space and a fully customised fit out on flexible lease terms, giving them greater autonomy and flexibility to expand and contract based on their specific business requirements.
The benefits of Cat A+ are clear to both sides of the agreement. Landlords and developers benefit from being able to offer ready space as well as a considerable reduction in negotiation and fit-out timeframes. While leases might be shorter than a traditional office lease, they will be executed more quickly.
Businesses also benefit from being able to get into their workspace more quickly, having had to make fewer commitments and decisions regarding fit out. At the end of the lease, dilapidations costs can be managed more easily having built into the payment terms over the course of the agreement. All this provides a far more cost-effective, flexible offering, compared to a traditional 10-year lease with a fully-customised fit-out. While this model will still appeal to certain businesses, the key is to offer space to suit a wide-variety of occupational requirements.
Cat A+ has the potential to get the market for workspace really moving again post-pandemic. It is the ideal hybrid in a world where businesses are understandably wary about what could be around the corner and want their real estate to support the function of the business rather than being a hindrance or barrier to their changing needs.
Beyond Grade A
Occupiers require far more from the workplace than ever before; places to relax, leisure facilities, somewhere to unwind at the end of the day. This trend was growing pre-Covid, but has only accelerated since.
As a developer or landlord, to say ‘we’re creating grade A workspace’ is no longer enough. It’s what else you offer that is the differentiator.
The scale of our schemes in Leeds and Sheffield means that we can offer everything today’s workers are looking for. We’re creating communities; places to live, work and play. Shops, cafes, gyms, green spaces; occupiers want to be able to offer all these elements to their staff and provide a choice that rivals the environment at home.
Take Thorpe Park in Leeds, for example, our award-winning business destination. The development already features more than 1.25m sq ft of built space, including a 330,000 sq ft retail and leisure park known as The Springs, and supports over 5,500 jobs but we’re currently underway with phase two to deliver an additional 1 million sq ft of mixed-use accommodation including 300 new homes and a 113-acre public park. The site has also been chosen for a new railway station, which will provide transport to Leeds city centre in less than 10 minutes and integrate with Connecting Leeds’ ambitious new sustainable transport strategy.
We have all proven that we can work anywhere, from a kitchen table or the sofa surrounded by our children and pets. While we believe that, given the choice, people will return to the workplace, the real estate sector needs to play its part in contributing towards this to change the narrative from the feeling of ‘having to’ to ‘wanting to’.