What is driving changes in workspace usage?

Darryl Easton, managing director, East On Commercial Interiors

The speed of change in the use of workspaces has accelerated in recent years and we have picked up a distinct realignment of landlord and tenant requirements even in the past 9-12 months.

Frequently, we see tenants that need their current space replanning; they are not considering relocating and may be some time away from lease-end but are simply seeking to anticipate new expectations of their premises that just cannot wait.

This is very much driven by a change of mindset. Until a year ago, the key driver was how to make colleagues feel “cocooned” in the workplace.

In an attempt to nudge teams back into the office, the theory was that if the many comforts of home were replicated at work, staff would feel encouraged to return.

Cue a plethora of soft furnishings, sofas and kitchen refurbishments.

But how that has changed. In part fostered by a greater emphasis on collaboration and human connections, the briefs that we now receive are about a more direct drive to get teams back into the office.

The messages might be subtle but the intent is clear – we want our teams back together on a daily basis.

It is less about encouragement and more about a definite change of direction of expectations around productivity increases through human interaction. The return of the famous water cooler moment, if you like.

To make this work, there is a greater emphasis on how to do more than pay lip service to the idea of collaboration; where businesses have reduced office space as a result of hybrid working and now face the challenge of fitting more people into the same space on a daily basis, every sq ft of real estate has to work even harder.

We have seen this play out in spaces that may have seemed surplus to requirements in the past, for example, basement areas would have been seen as being unworthy of a full design and build project and the staff assigned to these parts of a building would have been expected to work in what could only be described as suboptimal conditions.

In contrast, a recent basement project that we worked on has become the hub of a vibrant media operation, and yet it’s not that many years ago that a former tenant of the same building told us that it was so gloomy in the basement that the staff used to call colleagues on the upper floors to check on the weather due to the lack of windows.

One aspect of the approach to the development of office space remains constant, however, and that is the drive for sustainable solutions.Aside from legislative requirements, being able to demonstrate a tangible commitment to “green” design and facilities has positive benefits in both the recruitment of staff and ongoing retention.

This can be where the relationship between landlords and tenants can become strained, in our experience. while both parties recognise the benefits of sustainable improvements, where the cost is borne through the supply chain can become a bone of contention.

In the short to medium term, we believe that there will be continued demand for replanned office space to suit the demands of a “return to the office” mindset, whether this is for new leases or existing premises.

Darryl Easton is managing director of East On Commercial Interiors