In short: What occupier trends will occur in the post-Covid-19 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. Indeed, it isn’t yet clear what the world will be like once the Covid cloud eventually lifts – or at least settles. But 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 to easily adapt office space. Particularly to move with the demands of a modern occupier.

  • Can you design M&E systems for space with subdivision or amalgamation with adjacent suites?
  • Are additional WCs necessary?
  • Can we build additional occupancy density into the design at day one?

Couple all this with the above and to assist fast-tracking lettings. Accordingly, short-term standard leases and licence documents may both demystify and simplify the lettings process.

CAT A+/ CAT B Fit Outs

Over the last few years, we have seen agents recommending the installation of CAT A+/CAT B fit-outs. Particularly for office suites of up to 5,000 sq ft. In many instances, this is paying dividends with the office space effectively marketing itself to potential occupiers. Thus reducing both void and rent-free periods.

The design of the space is imperative, but they require both:

  • the 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

For occupier trends during Covid-19, the last few months show the importance of 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, in short, indicate 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 en route. Moreover, if you’re lucky, you might just get a ‘Heidi’ installed as part of the management team.

We are currently working with a number of clients to integrate such systems into their buildings. Indeed, the system may not receive viable installation on day one. But consideration should go to ensuring controls are compatible for future installation.

Well-being with occupier trends during Covid-19

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 is now in the spotlight.

Furthermore, Covid-19 emphasises the importance of a number of features. Not least internal air quality, cycling, shower and locker facilities as well as enhancements to cleaning regimes.

For projects looking to focus on particular elements of health and wellbeing, there are a number of standards and tools available focusing 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 the 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 strive to help clients achieve Net Zero carbon emissions at the 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.

Covid-19 and occupier trends

Covid-19 has emphasised a number of design principles that can improve hygiene levels within the office space. Consideration of this at the design stage often results in very small cost variances. For example:

  • 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 traditional 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