Is achieving ‘total’ workplace utility an exercise in flexibility or futility?

‘Flexibility’ is the word on occupiers’ lips at the moment and it’s resounding in investors and developers’ ears. And the latter are listening, for the balance of power is definitely with corporates. From an occupier perspective however, ‘flexibility’ is far more than just shorter and better lease terms, it is about having the type of space that will truly ‘flex’ with their businesses. Whether a company is reorganising, growing, downsizing or ‘yo-yoing’ in its space requirements – for example, due to the variable volumes of more project-oriented work – then its future office design must be adaptable enough to accommodate change.  And beyond the shifting nature of work, space will also have to be easily reconfigurable to allow for greater in-office collaboration, ‘intensive’ and mobile working – we’re all used to working on a laptop in a breakout area.

Despite a transformation in working styles, which means that there aren’t many places we cannot connect, input or produce, the office will in fact become more important as the place for collaboration and engagement and as the hub for corporate culture and brand. But along the way, there are many challenges or backlashes to new and existing change. More sedentary-type workers could soon view hot-desking less as an innovative way of working and more the company trying to reduce its rent. Higher up the pecking order, the senior executive might resent the loss of a long-cherished personal office, while in certain countries there are still those who mock the concept of working at home. And how do you accommodate the differing priorities, values and technological abilities of a workforce that could age from 16 to 76?

To some, achieving ‘total’ workplace utility and optimum productivity (in and outside the office) might be an exercise in futility. The hurdles are too high, the barriers too thick.  For the ‘winners’ though, change can be a reality, but it will take a universal change in mindset led from the top (and from CRE teams) to enable wholesale behavioural change and an approach to ‘work life and well-being’ that goes far beyond just the workplace.

For a more in-depth view on the changing face of work and workplace utility, see what we are saying in our Offices 2020 programme which is looking at the future of offices across EMEA – better still, join in and share your thoughts with other lenders, investors and developers.