By Rob Harris, Principal, Ramidus Consulting
As the City’s economy continues to evolve, so too do the businesses that operate there. In turn, work is changing and the nature of demand for office space is also changing. Our research set out to explore these dynamics and to interpret the implications for workplaces in the City of London.
The mix of firms working in the City is diversifying, particularly with a growth in technology-related firms. The serviced office and co-working space market is also expanding rapidly, providing space for smaller occupiers and corporates looking for flexibility.
The corporate landscape is changing dramatically, and workplaces in the City are increasingly being designed and managed so that they can react quickly to new business priorities. The role of the workplace in supporting business agility and connectivity cannot be overstated, with workplaces themselves becoming more team-based and collaborative. The traditional corporate real estate focus on furniture and space is becoming outdated; there is now a need to acknowledge the multidisciplinary skills needed to create the workplace experience.
The City’s workforce
The City of London has a young, highly skilled and highly productive workforce that is increasingly prioritising flexibility and choice. Partly because of this, the demands of the workforce are becoming an increasingly important consideration in workplace provision as employers seek to provide workplaces that not only attract and retain highly skilled staff, but which also provide an environment aimed at maximising productivity.
The City’s workforce is increasingly mobile, or agile: within the office, between office and home, and in ‘third places’. This is leading workplaces to be designed and managed in a manner which enables increasingly complex relationships to flourish, with work being redefined as an activity rather than a place. The workplace is also a powerful conveyor of messages to staff and clients about the values and culture of an organisation.
The changing nature of workplaces
Workplaces are being managed less as static backdrops to routine, sedentary work, and more like hotels than traditional offices, with a high level of service and experience for ‘guests’. Space allocation in the workplace has changed significantly with the traditional mix of desks and offices yielding to a richer palette of work settings. Moreover the predicted future growth in employment will not automatically translate into space demand as occupiers strive for ‘spaceless growth’.
Corporate office buildings are becoming increasingly permeable as organisational boundaries become less fixed to deal with a more mobile workforce and growing proportions of temporary and contract staff. Despite increasing levels of mobility, office spaces that support the co-location of teams are still recognised as being of importance and remain a core requirement for most firms.
Our research has shown the growing importance of ‘spaces between buildings’ – the public realm. The City’s public realm has become more important as workers expect their high quality, well serviced and supportive workplaces to be mirrored outside the building.
Implications for the City
There are a number of overarching themes that run through our research, which are common to the interests of businesses, the workforce, workplaces and the public realm. These themes include:
- flexibility and adaptability;
- work as experience;
- agility and connectivity; and
These themes encapsulate the direction in which working practices and the design and management of workplaces will evolve over the coming decade.
Looking further ahead
Our research looked ahead over the next ten years but, in a fast changing world, what about the next 30 to 40 years? While impossible to say with any degree of certainty, it is possible to consider a number of factors. The City will be ‘smart’ in many senses, possibly with self-sustaining buildings, electric emission-free vehicles and automated transport. It could also mean new approaches to heating and cooling of buildings and decongesting the public realm. Civic design and planning might ensure that the City will retain and expand its green and open public spaces, despite limitations in available space, to enable people to come together, relax, share and collaborate. The nature of work will change dramatically by 2050 as artificial intelligence lays waste to large swathes of jobs – while creating thousands of new opportunities. And if the City continues to leverage its heritage, and provide a compelling and memorable experience, it should continue to be attractive to global businesses.