The modern office must offer a highly personalised human experience Image Credit: Supplied

The coronavirus pandemic has made companies around the world question the purpose of physical office space. With the aim to ‘reimagine’ the future of work, global real estate consultancy JLL recently surveyed more than 3,000 employees working in multi-national companies across the globe to find that the three key imperatives for post-pandemic offices include working remotely, rethinking the offices as a social hub, and offering highly personalised human experiences.

Yulliana Porter, Head of Workplace Design, MENA at JLL says, “In the post-pandemic world of work, organisations should prepare for a permanent rise in employee expectations, particularly around having greater flexibility and autonomy. To attract and retain employees back to the office, workplaces will need to import some of the home comforts they’ve become used to during lockdown, creating a more human-centered environment. In the end, standardisation will give way to greater humanisation of space to support a liquid workforce.”

A more fulfilling experience

Ben McGregor is investment director of ICD Brookfield Image Credit: Supplied

"Absolutely," agrees Ben McGregor, Investment Director of ICD Brookfield. "Expectations of employees around the workplace have risen substantially. While I think for many, the novelty of working from home is waning, those that aren’t yet back in the office are looking for reasons to return to the workplace and will want a richer and more fulfilling experience from their work life. In dialogue with new tenants of ICD Brookfield Place, we are hearing that many of their staff, previously had not returned to the office are now coming back because of the clean healthy building and enhanced working environment.”

While Porter expects to see a growing interest in creating spaces that improve collaboration, innovation, and space utilization, McGregor, says corporates are now taking a more measured approach and conducting increased levels of due diligence on important aspects like air quality, access to natural light, vertical transportation and sustainability. “While the price per square feet is always an important factor in any real estate decision, tenants are increasingly placing greater importance on a safe and healthy work environment when looking to bring their teams back together,” he says.

“Tenants want more out of their workplace and demand higher standards of building management. They want more efficient floorplates that allow for better space utilization and productivity. This may allow for a smaller footprint, or more common lately, greater spacing between desks and increased space for alternative workspaces and break-out areas. We are also seeing a growing demand for flexible workspaces in and around the building. For instance, we are seeing a growing appeal for connected workspaces in areas of rich biophilia. It’s scientifically proven that we need green space for mental health and creativity. People want the flexibility for agile working, but don’t necessarily want to be sitting in a makeshift office in their spare bedroom. They want a dynamic physical workplace, where social interactivity and access to superior amenity is all around you, in essence a place that encourages meaningful productive days,” explains McGregor.

According to the JLL research, the traditional model of an assigned-desk space is making way for activity-based working, one that allows employees to choose from a variety of work settings based on the tasks employees need to accomplish during their time in the office.

A hybrid office model

The future of the office will be a hybrid model, making the best out of each world: The office will become an extension of our lives, a place where employees can socialize, connect and learn. The new model must harness the emotional, digital, and physical dimensions. This mix will have to be built in consideration with the culture of each company and trends within its industry. It will require an in-depth understanding of a company’s talent profiles and expectations. It will also depend largely on the extent to which each role can be carried out remotely.

The pandemic has also made sure that companies adopt new technologies at a faster rate. Hence, being digitally integrated as a company and developing smart solutions is more relevant than any other time, enabling employees to connect anywhere at any time. Planning spaces with technology in mind, and selecting solutions that support tasks, processes, and teams is a crucial aspect of developing a technology-enabled workplace.

Keeping workers motivated

As corporates adjust to a new normal which is set to involve flexibility and agility, they must find ways to ensure their people continue to be engaged, motivated, and inspired. By conducting a Workplace Strategy assessment a company’s mobility profiles can be assessed and re-aligned with future business goals. By analyzing the workforce, space and asset requirements, organizations can begin to identify the wider environment in which employees are the most innovative and productive.

McGregor says, “From the outset of the design of ICD Brookfield Place, we placed great importance on creating a lifestyle workplace. We actively encouraged a blurring of the lines between traditional workplace, enhanced amenity and social spaces. In the war for talent, corporates are having to work harder to attract and retain talent and people want to work in a vibrant community, where access to world class food and beverage, health and wellness, culture, art and green space are all integrated into a connected workspace. Workspace efficiency is another key area of focus. We designed our floorplate with the occupier in mind, right down to the structural grid, mullion spacing and the core to perimeter depths. This allows corporates to get the most out of their space, by either fitting more into their space, or by reducing their footprint leading to lower occupational costs over the term.”

The ICD Brookfield office within ICD Brookfield Place tower Image Credit: Supplied

A recent panel discussion on "How will COVID-19 impact how and where we work?" hosted by Savills looked at human-centric office designs that will be important to attract and retain talent. Panelists discussed sustainability and environmental impact of office space that has become a key consideration. This impact has also been driven by millennials, who now constitute a large share of the workforce globally. Richard Paul, head of professional services and strategic consultancy at Savills Middle East says, “Our findings would strongly suggest that the office won’t disappear, but it will likely change. A change that will look to instil a work-life balance, with a renewed focus on physical and mental health as well as productivity and efficiency.”

McGregor believe that companies still need physical workplaces to foster company culture, enhance productivity and to develop talent. “Talent is ultimately what will drive a business forward. Employees are looking for a place to feel energized, inspired and perform at their best. They want an all-encompassing ecosystem, where all their daily needs are addressed through enhanced amenities, social integration, a connected walkable community, green space and access to services. Out of all of the recent surveys on the future of the workplace, the most often highlighted thing that people miss about the office is the social interaction, we are ultimately social beings that require human interaction and so we are seeing a greater emphasis on creating human-centric environments in the workplace to create better collaboration and productivity. Being in and around your team is part of what makes a company successful.”