Stock office work
Post pandemic, workers are returning to offices in higher frequencies. But their expectations of what workplaces should offer is still fluid. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The UAE construction market size was valued at $85.6 billion in 2021. The market is projected to grow at an AAGR (average annual growth rate) of more than 3 per cent from 2023-26.

The industrial construction sector is expected to expand this year, supported by the government’s ‘Operation 300bn’ programs, to increase the sector’s contribution to the GDP by 2031. The government’s emphasis on strengthening the business environment, coupled with efforts to achieving long-term economic diversification under the UAE Economic Vision 2030 plan, will further support the sector’s output.

The UAE has about half of the pipeline value of Saudi Arabia, with $288 billion in planned projects; 377 projects, valued at $5.8 billion, are in the industrial sector.

The construction industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, with projects seeing delays and new ones drastically reduced. There was, however, a huge renovation uplift, especially across industrial and commercial buildings. In addition to renovation projects, the workplace space saw a seismic shift in type rather than volume.

This shift to co-working spaces, we believe, will only be exacerbated by the threat of a recession, whether a recession occurs or not.

Facing up to a recession

While the consensus is that a global recession is likely sometime in 2023, it's impossible to predict how severe it will be or how long it will last. Not every recession is as painful as the 2007-09 Great Recession, but every recession is, of course, painful and some industries are starting to tighten belts.

Gensler sees design as strategy in action, focused on results. We leverage design’s power to generate solutions that impact real transformation, when it’s needed. This is one of those times. Industrial architecture has been a primary talking point since the pandemic, as the impact hit the workplace, within construction plans, the hardest.

Globally, the ability to work remotely has made almost half of urban residents think about moving out of their current city. Our data indicates that most people who want to move, and have the ability to work remotely, are considering relocating to another city, often one with a smaller population. Respondents looking to move, but without the ability to work remotely are, in some cases, actually looking to move to a larger city.

Of those who want to move out of their cities, 80 per cent of people who work from home 1-2 days a week and 76 per cent of people who work from home 3-4 days a week are looking to a move to a city. What this means in the workplace design world is architects need to design hybrid spaces that cater to a new type of requirement.

Not only hybrid style work spaces, but easily accessible, highly connected and attractive enough to leave home. Today’s growing class of remote workers will be looking for cities that have great places for remote work, and that often comes down to cities that provide livable and resilient downtowns, great neighborhoods and a wide variety of places that support work.

From increased infrastructure and building adaptation to new developments, cities must prioritize effective ways to support remote working. Cities that can accommodate the hybrid workforce will have a competitive edge in attracting residents.

Co-working comes back into reckoning

Co-working has become one of the fastest growing global workplace movements since the pandemic. Business owners are looking for shorter leases, just-in-time space, reduced overhead costs, shared infrastructure and access to a network of like-minded individuals that often lead to great networking opportunities.

Co-working spaces have also become a third workplace option for many large corporates, who are integrating co-working spaces into their workplace policies.

Because one size does not fit all and a customized workplace that suits various workstyles is still key, we are still seeing investment into workplace architecture and design. It’s also been argued that the best way to come out of a recession is to invest more heavily into a circular economy.

For business owners it becomes more important to ensure their employees are delivering. This means working in a shared space and it means creating a highly productive environment.

The wellness factor

In exchange for coming back to the workplace, employees are making more demands. We have seen a big focus on WELL, the world's first international building certification that focuses exclusively on human health and wellness, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) the most widely used green building rating system, certifications amongst our multinational clients, especially.

Tenants are looking to move into LEED certified buildings and build on a strong sustainability driven foundation. WELL policies and initiatives are driving space types and amenities. More than anything, employees are demanding wellbeing in the workplace as well as equality and inclusivity in its offerings.

The last couple of years have been a scramble of corporations recovering, understanding, strategizing and now building. Over the last year we have helped many of our clients through this journey, many of whom are completing the strategizing phase now, and some of whom have started the building portion over the last year. Many who started building over the last year have been adapting as they go, to a constantly changing workforce.

The focus is on employees and their needs right now more than ever.

As people increasingly seek human connection, the most successful workspaces are designed to offer more than space — they’re providing a lifestyle. 2023 will bring a new revolution of workplace design that pushes boundaries for many corporations. It’s important to understand the region and culture for whom we are designing and lead with design experience, not space.