It's the biggest home working experiment in history

Richard Pickering


The office work paradigm was shifting before the pandemic, but this period has given us clues about how much the process of change might have been accelerated and an insight into the directions that these changes might take us that we didn’t have before – some of which we might not have expected.

Overwhelmingly the view from our respondents is that there will be a dramatic increase in the demand for flexibility in the workspace. The days of whole buildings being occupied by a single tenant for a single purpose – in this case for use as offices – they say are over. This will have a significant effect on areas like Central Business Districts ('CBDs') which were built for one purpose, and one purpose only. The irony being that spaces that have historically been designed with a single purpose, might find themselves no longer fit for purpose, as workers want to be able to live, work, shop, socialise and workout in a singular multi-purpose environment.

And this demand is unlikely to be fulfilled by the traditional serviced office or co-working space providers. The old co-working space models are dead, they say. In order to survive, these businesses will need to offer something else and it is the hospitality industry that our respondents predict will adapt to meet the demand.

Whatever the profile of the landlord or the building, our respondents believe owners will have to work harder in order to make the asset work for them. This may mean re-purposing space, providing additional flexibility or diversifying the tenant portfolio.

Some of our respondents wonder whether the era of long lease terms and fixed rents has also had its day. Perhaps the future is more collaborative – and landlords will come to see the relationship with their tenants more as a partnership, where landlords share in the upside during the good times, but shoulder some of the burden during the bad times. This increased risk may deliver heightened rewards for the innovative.

Our research indicates that in the future the office is going to become one amongst a range of options. Whilst in some cases offices may remain pivotal, they are going to compete with client offices, home, local hubs, hospitality spaces and other working spaces closer to home.

The choice will become home, work and a third space

Katrina Kostic Samen, founder of KKS Savills and architect

I suspect we are going to be talking about the failure of the CBD, in a lot of cases. Big, tall office buildings… have a questionable future

Yolande Barnes, chair of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute at University College London and property market commentator

The future of CBDs

The future of central business districts is uncertain, at best. CBDs need re-thinking if they are to survive in the future and to avoid subsequent 'sudden deaths'.

As more people work from home, co-working spaces or hospitality venues closer to home, so the importance of the CBD office or headquarters will diminish. Nectar Efkarpidis, director at Molonglo, designer and theorist, thinks that CBDs are going to be characterised by lots of empty building space and that new ways of working and living in them will evolve.

Over time our respondents think that what people will want, and what investors and developers will need to provide, is greater flexibility in the office environment and a more activity-based approach to working. Understanding how to meet this new demand for flexibility presents an opportunity for investors.

Fewer taller buildings

In the foreseeable future our experts anticipate a move away from tall office buildings. Commentators like Robbie Kerr, director at ADAM Architecture, predict that people will not want to stay in a lift for more than four floors – which obviously has direct implications on the maximum height of buildings.

Robert Adam, founder of Robert Adam Architectural Consultancy, talks of how tall buildings in city centres are generally occupied by service industries whose employees are most capable of home working. This will ultimately result in a decrease in demand for commercial space within tall buildings from within the class of their most typical occupiers.

Tall buildings will not disappear overnight, but they may decline

Robert Adam, founder of Robert Adam Architectural Consultancy

Office design

'We believe the office will change to accommodate more precise functions that come about from people needing to be together. The old ways are cookie cutter, the new ways will be more customized'

Nectar Efkarpidis

In the good old days you could work out the real estate requirement for a business by simply multiplying the office workforce by the prevailing floor space allocation per person at that time. You would instruct an agent and they would go out and find you 10,000 sq. ft. or 20,000 sq. ft. and you would fit it out – historically with office units, or more lately with rows of open plan desks. The design stimulus in making real estate decisions was limited.

Accessing and leasing office space

'There’s no reason that an office space can’t be leased in the same way you book an airline ticket or a seat at the theatre, you don’t need an agent'

Nectar Efkarpidis

Work life will feel more constrained because there will be more operational control in the future around processes like entering the office, booking tables, desks and rooms, and larger group meetings are likely to be prohibited.

Dispersal of businesses

'In today’s fast paced society there is an increasing desire from employees to strike the right work/life balance. If there’s an environment near a person’s home that enables them to work productively, but at the same time to attend to personal matters such as running family errands, employees are going to want that'

Marcus Loo, CEO of Savills Singapore

We will see larger businesses disperse their offices more widely over a greater area to meet employee demand. Businesses don’t want to lose employees, and in particular younger members of staff who are more likely to be starting families and to have embraced more agile ways of working.

I can see these places gathering around hubs, enabling people to get together with other professionals

Robbie Kerr

Spectrum of workspaces

All of our respondents envisage that the future of work will be characterised by a spectrum of different workspaces co-existing, from the CBD office, home office working, suburban co-working hubs, to local high street workspaces. Big companies with centrally located office spaces are already looking at regional clusters of employees to see if they can establish satellite offices closer to where people live.

Some of our respondents are uncertain as to whether the current providers of co-working space will be able to respond to this growing demand, questioning its relatively high cost and a perceived inflexibility. The trend within this market over recent years has been towards private modular serviced offices, diluting the appeal of social interaction between highly innovative businesses which was originally an important part of the draw.

Choice of work locations

'It's not a case of you're either in the office or you're at home. You're going to be in a much more flexible series of interconnected workspaces, to be joined together through technology'

Richard Pickering

What’s clear is that the solution to workspace outside of the office is likely to involve a diverse spectrum of options with the office destined to be just one among a range of spaces that people utilise for work.

Respondents note that the demarcation between home and office is a relatively recent construct and that we may be moving back to some of the elements of a pre-industrial framework/mindset.

The role of hospitality

'The pressure is on hospitality to deliver a workspace environment as part of their model'

David McDowall, Group COO of brewer and pub group BrewDog

The feeling among our respondents is that it is the hospitality sector, rather than traditional co-working businesses, that has the greatest potential to meet the demand for a third space between work and home. There is a natural coalescence between demand for a third space to work in and the industry generally. People want to socialise, a change of environment and things that they can't get at home (e.g. artisan coffees, and table service).

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