The British Council for Offices (BCO) held its annual awards at the end of April. It recognises what’s best about today’s workplaces, and the images of the shortlisted entries are certain to bring on a serious case of office-envy.
With airy, open spaces, trendy furniture, in-house cafes and discreetly-screened meeting areas, these buildings exemplify where the office of the 21st Century is heading. It’s not a home-from-home – it’s better than that.
They are a far cry from the offices where many of us now in middle age may have started our careers, with packed-in desks, standard blue-grey carpets and windows only for senior staff.
The opportunities are there because ventilation, cooling and heating are vital to health, comfort and productivity in indoor environments
It seems to work
Usually, we could write off the BCO shortlist as outliers and exemplars of what happens when clients have a point to make with their building.
However, what we’re seeing here is a clear trend in what clients are looking for in office design and delivery.
And the change is not just driven by owner-occupiers. The massive expansion of office-as-a-service giant, We Work is spreading this new approach to offices much further and faster.
One of the drivers in these changes in workplace design is the need for businesses to attract the tech-savvy, digital native generation who are entering the workforce now.
This new generation of workers wants to be inspired by their workplace – and these are the people that companies want to attract as employees.
Wellbeing is another important change agent in how offices look and function. Although it’s a word that can be associated with numerous social trends, it is now being taken very seriously in the property market.
In June 2018, the BCO itself produced a report titled ‘Wellness Matters’* which ‘identifies the most recent and relevant medical evidence justifying a proactive approach to health and wellbeing in the built environment and articulates the case for business investment in this space beyond simply improving productivity.”
The impact of this report shouldn’t be underestimated. It was the result of a year-long study, with input from medical and academic experts.
It was also used to inform the 2019 BCO Guide to Specification which is the industry-recognised standard for best practice in office development across the UK.
A challenge and an opportunity
For building services professionals, the changing trends in what clients want from offices are both a challenge and an opportunity.
It’s challenging because the use of space is becoming even less predictable. Open spaces require careful engineering for acoustics as well as air movement and lighting. There is a return to exposed services in ceilings which can save time and effort in one area but presents challenges in others.
However, the opportunities are there because ventilation, cooling and heating are vital to health, comfort and productivity in indoor environments.
In a recent report from property specialists Cushman & Wakefield, factors such as good quality cooling, heating and control were very high on the list of factors that occupants want in their workplace. There is a high value to be placed on designers and installers who can deliver this reliably and predictably.
Controls and data capture will also become more important. In order to measure the performance of buildings and become more adept at predicting HVAC requirements, it will be vital to ensure that the building management system (BMS) can collect information and enable the facilities team to carry out analysis.
And controls that allow occupants to manage their work environment (perhaps via smartphones) are increasingly on the technical ‘shopping list’ for developers.
Essentially, building design and operation are becoming more people-focused, which is understandable because people are the most valuable item any business ever invests in.
Modern building services equipment, such as air conditioning, has the ability to offer just what today’s occupants want.
Karen Fletcher is editor of Modern Building Services