What do occupiers want from their post-Covid workspace?

Over the past few years we have slowly seen a decrease in the volume of traditional ‘CAT A’ office space being delivered to the market. This shift has been an organic process as occupiers search for space that provides more than just a nice ceiling, LED lights and a raised-access floor.

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided further time for existing and prospective new occupiers to reflect on what they really want from their office space. Whilst it isn’t yet clear what the world will be like once the Covid cloud eventually lifts – or at least settles – we have been giving some thought to what occupiers may be looking for.

Flexibility and Future Proofing
The office market is already seeing a monumental increase in demand for smaller office floor plates, coupled with lease terms that are flexible. This trend first appeared at the end of 2019, pre-Covid, with serviced office providers seeing a large take up for smaller office suites with more flexible terms, offering occupiers a ‘no-fuss’ solution.

Moving forward, we anticipate that it will become imperative for design teams to consider how office space can be easily adapted to move with the demands of the modern occupier. Can M&E systems be designed for space that can be swiftly sub divided or amalgamated with adjacent suites? Are additional WCs required? Can additional occupancy density be built into the design at day one?

Coupled with the above and to assist fast tracking lettings, short-term standardised leases and licence documents are likely to be developed to demystify and simplify the lettings process.

CAT A+/ CAT B Fit Outs
Over the last few years, we have seen agents recommending CAT A+/CAT B fit outs are installed to office suites of up to 5,000 sq ft. In many instances this has paid dividends with the office space effectively marketing itself to potential occupiers, reducing void and rent-free periods.

The design of the space is imperative, with a fine balance of meeting appraisal expectations with high quality and finishes and furniture that stand the test of time. Building in flexibility for future adaption such as adding additional desks and adapting meeting rooms is also key.

Connectivity and smart buildings
The last few months have highlighted the importance of workforce and workplace connectivity. We believe a dedicated high-speed fibre connection will move from being a luxury item to absolutely business critical. Installing the infrastructure at refurbishment stage is likely to pay dividends. This move also negates the need for occupiers to negotiate lengthy wayleaves.

Advances in technology has seen the evolution of smart building systems. This has resulted in occupiers being able to access buildings, control lighting, heating and cooling from their phone. Some systems even allow you to order your morning coffee on route, and if you’re lucky, you might just get a ‘Heidi’ installed as part of the management team (read more here).

We are currently working with a number of clients to integrate such systems into their buildings. Even if the system cannot be viably installed on day one, consideration should be given to ensuring controls are compatible for future installation.

Wellbeing
A holistic approach to refurbishing office space is essential. Wellness accreditation bodies such as Fitwel and WELL are helping project teams to ensure that they have included a whole range of health and wellbeing considerations in their designs. Everything from available green space through to emergency equipment and procedures are now in the spotlight. Furthermore, Covid-19 has emphasised the importance of a number of features, not least internal air quality, cycling, shower and locker facilities as well as enhanced cleaning regimes.

For projects looking to focus on particular elements of health and wellbeing there are a number of standards and tools available which are focused on just one aspect of health and wellbeing, for example RESET which assess air quality or Cycling Score which looks at grading cycling provisions.

The modern office provides more than just a space to work and incorporating wellbeing aspirations into the project brief at inception stage is important. This early consideration enables proper thought to be given to what occupiers want and also to what is realistically achievable. Many design features can be easily incorporated without the need for wholesale building changes and many health and wellbeing features are possible to achieve without huge costs.

Energy Efficiency, ESG & Net Zero
At Workman we are committed to helping clients achieve Net Zero carbon emissions at asset and portfolio level. An office refurbishment provides the perfect opportunity to review how energy efficiency can be improved, along with future proofing assets to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Combining our Property Management and Building Consultancy expertise, along with ESG knowledge, we can help property owners and investors to navigate the challenges ahead.

The Covid-19 Factor
Covid-19 has emphasised a number of design principles that can improve hygiene levels within the office space. Consideration of this at design stage often results in very small cost variances. Examples include contactless access control systems using your smartphone as a pass, sensor taps and flush buttons, automatic door openers and contactless drinks dispensers.

More substantial adaptions include reviewing the ventilation strategy for the office space, with many traditionally city offices incorporating fixed glazing and mechanical ventilation. As such, options for natural ventilation or enhancing filtration levels can be explored.

Occupier amenities will remain high on the agenda as the number of people cycling, walking or running into work is expected to increase. Adequate storage and showering facilities are a must-have. And of course, planning for future lockdowns certainly isn’t off the cards.

By Matthew Osborne
Partner, Building Consultancy