5 UK office trends to look out for in 2021
- The office won’t be our only workplace
While the ‘death of the office’ debate was far too binary, it’s clear that the future of work involves a strategic blend of working from the office, working from home and working closer to home. Different tasks require different environments for optimum productivity, and as the trend of flexible working accelerates, employees will have a greater amount of choice in deciding where they spend their time.
Part of this shift will involve businesses ensuring their offices are worth financially and emotionally investing in the commute for – the ‘office experience’ will be key. Not only will it involve a flight to quality and high-spec design, but purpose will be paramount, too. Face-to-face collaboration and the human elements of business such as community, creativity, innovation and training and development will lure teams in.
- Agile working will become more widely adopted
Just as flexible working gives employees autonomy around location, agile working gives employees autonomy within the office. At its core, agile working focuses on what the workplace can offer beyond desk space. It’s about having the variety of doing some desk work, then having an energetic meeting on your feet, followed by some focused time in a quiet breakout space.
This is certainly a trend that the pandemic will accelerate, and naturally, its adoption will feed into our newfound focus on the office experience. Pre-Covid-19, for example, opting to have 60 desks for 100 employees was considered slightly too extreme, but now, as teams work on rotas to accommodate social distancing, it’s considered a new norm.
Plus, following the prescriptive monotony many experienced while working from home, it’s likely that businesses will want workspaces that encourage movement and mobility to mitigate the attached risks of a sedentary lifestyle.
- Sustainability and wellbeing will take centre stage
Both sustainability and wellbeing had a firm place on the UK’s agenda before Covid-19. In fact, London already ranks as number one globally for sustainable real estate with over 3,000 green-rated buildings. But the pandemic has accelerated both trends.
When UK businesses were asked about the non-economic impacts of Covid-19 in Knight Frank’s Re-occupancy and Re-imagined Workplace Survey, 74% said they now have a greater focus on wellbeing in the workplace. Likewise, 53% said they now have a greater focus on sustainability, which is a testament to ESG’s rising prominence.
Firstly, we want to maintain our newfound work-life balance, and secondly, the climate crisis is critical and real estate is a core part of the solution; green, sustainable buildings will be a dominant characteristic of the post Covid-19 office market.
Plus, as generations of talent become more conscious about sustainability and workplace wellbeing, businesses that offer genuine benefits packages and base themselves in ESG-friendly offices might find they have a competitive advantage.
- The demand for flexible offices will rise
Popularised by the likes of WeWork, TOG and Regus, flexible offices offer a more flexible alternative to today’s traditional leases. They give you the agility to move straight into a furnished office, shrink and grow your space depending on your headcount, budget accordingly with an all-inclusive cost and stay flexible with a monthly rolling contract. For some businesses, they’ll act as a tonic for uncertainty.
Historically, flexible offices have been the first port of call for less-established businesses such as startups and scale-ups, and while that continues to be the case, bigger businesses who are new to the world of flex might also introduce it to their real estate portfolios as we move into 2021. This is likely to be driven by uncertainty in the operating market, fit-out delays requiring stop-gap solutions and even the demand to house digital transformation project teams in satellite offices.
- The office will be viewed as an investment, not a cost
After the novelty of exclusively working from home resulted in a stint of productivity, the workplace was viewed as a cost – one that was easily replaced by employees’ kitchen tables. Tech giants made headlines with office-culling moves, while others decided to hang tight.
Now, we’re starting to see businesses recognise the office as an investment in employee attraction, retention, wellbeing and productivity. They’re taking a step back from knee-jerk reactions and truly assessing how their real estate portfolios can align with their business plans. For starters, it’s near impossible to foster and maintain a strong company culture in a remote-only world. Unfortunately, that might only become palpable once it’s too late. And when businesses start to compete for top talent again, it’s likely the best candidates will choose the businesses which have the best environments.
In terms of employee engagement, there are plenty of careers that cannot thrive unless they are in the midst of office action. Overhearing phone calls, networking across departments and collaborating instantaneously with the talent beside you is immensely powerful for short-term creativity and long-term development.