In the first instalment of this series, we asserted that the need to attract top talent will be the driving force behind the next transformation in Dubai’s commercial sector. To be a true magnet for global corporations, Dubai needs to prove it has the foundations in place to attract the people that will make these multinationals move to the emirate.

Creating best-in-class workspaces will be an essential component towards achieving this goal in the future development of Dubai’s infrastructure. According to the Knight Frank “Your Space” report, workplace amenities have improved markedly over the last five years.

As the attraction and retention of talent becomes critical, office occupiers now actively seek, rather than shun, buildings with ground floor retail and vibrancy. High-end coffee shops together with a mix of food and beverage facilities have particular appeal and double as informal workspaces for many.

Meanwhile, the rise of wellness as an employee concern has seen access to gyms, cycle storage and well-serviced “end of trip” facilities become de rigueur for a truly best-in-class workplace.

However, the appetite and speed of adoption of such amenities has been so widespread that they no longer represent a point of difference for either building owner or occupier. New amenity requirements will surface, further compounded by the continual redefinition of work, workers, and the workplace.

Dubai has the opportunity to both follow the global trends and set some of its own.

Image Credit: Gulf News

These amenities are intrinsically linked with what we call the “the productivity push” — one of five themes shaping future occupational demand across global real estate markets. We all know that real estate has a critical role to play in the push for increased corporate productivity.

Yet, this is not about increasing the density of occupation with the ultimate aim of savings at all costs. This approach has ultimately proven counterproductive. Instead, the aim is now to increase productivity by strengthening the interaction between people and property via the creation of, and investment in a serviced and well-supported workplace experience.

The five amenities the global real estate leaders we surveyed identified as being most likely to be demanded by staff within the next five years were: cycle storage and facilities; gym facilities; independent food and beverage; concierge; and health care facilities.

Catering for cycling commuters may not seem to be relevant in Dubai now, but if we want to maximise the life cycle of our buildings, don’t forget that the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) plans for Dubai to be among the most cycling-friendly cities in the world ahead of Expo 2020. The RTA plan to extend the existing network of 300 kilometres of cycling tracks to 560 kilometres by 2022.

Dubai’s cycling infrastructure will move from being a fitness and recreation facility into an environmentally friendly transport system. It could certainly help reduce the burden on car parking spaces currently suffered by many occupiers.

Other future amenity provisions worth consideration by developer, landlord and occupier alike include:

“Town-hall” spaces to support company- and/or community-wide learning initiatives; Walk-in health surgeries; Childcare/nursery facilities; Sanctuary spaces such as quiet zones, Zen rooms, nap spaces and even corporate spas; Atria space to increase building vibrancy; Public art installations and exhibitions; and Tech spaces dedicated to online learning.

This brings us to one of the other themes, that of “next wave technology”, which will have a profound impact on productivity push.

Two-thirds of the global corporate real estate leaders surveyed by us said that “merging technology” would greatly change the flexibility of their workforce/workplace. Sixty-one per cent said it would greatly change the productivity of the workforce/workplace; 57 per cent said the same about the talent required by business. And 48 per cent said it would alter the effectiveness of the workplace.

Artificial Intelligence, robotics and automation will create a period of rapid organisational and process re-engineering, ultimately changing the future form, function and location of workplaces. It will reset the quantum and qualities of staff required by a business.

It will bring about the closer interaction of humans and machines in support of greater corporate productivity. Critically, it will create new and different forms of occupational demand in global real estate markets, including Dubai.

Flexibility is key

With the above in mind, it’s certain that the workplaces we are used to in Dubai will transform. Developers would be wise to ensure that their buildings are designed with the best property management, MEP and HVAC systems possible, allowing flexible floor plates for a variety of space utilisations, exciting amenities and a longer life cycle.

For Dubai’s landlords and developers, this demands a fundamental rethink of the market proposition. After all, a third of the global corporate real estate leaders surveyed by Knight Frank said their biggest frustration as a customer was the inability of landlords to offer flexibility, closely followed by lack of innovation in product offering.

Tenants are seeking greater occupational flexibility and lease terms, expecting spaces that are a fluid and flexible business service, not a fixed physical product. Although the provision of a high quality, well-designed physical environment remains important, providing excellent customer service and curating an unrivalled and productive customer experience will become more so.

In Dubai, this will be the route to maintaining a base of income generating customers and maximise the life cycle of the building.

Matthew Dadd is a Partner at Knight Frank in Dubai, where he heads the Commercial division.