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Karen Fletcher looks at how demands on the office have changed

In April 2022, a report from HSBC noted that the idea of remote working is now ‘entrenched’ in mature economies such as the UK and the US.

The bank considers that occupancy could have reached a peak level already. But that doesn’t mean the office is finished – far from it.

In the UK, most workers seem to want to spend around three days in the office, working two days a week at home.

Hybrid seems to be the future for office work. Many experts in the commercial office sector back up this scenario, including the Office Principles March 2022 report which says that 94% of organisations are “embracing hybrid or agile working”.

‘Grade A’ spaces are seeing a surge in popularity

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Content director of Rocket Content

A complete rethink

And this changing office life is making many corporate employers reconsider just how much office space they need and rethink their approach to renting desk space for staff.

The market is already showing a strong trend: the flight to quality. If you need less office space, then you can afford a better-quality environment.

This means that the type of space developers refer to as ‘Grade A’ is seeing a surge in popularity with more potential tenants lining up to offer their employees a space that’ll tempt them to keep coming back.

The big question is no longer how many desks will fit into a space, but how can that space encourage productivity, creativity and collaboration – the kind of work we do best together in groups.

Flexible building services

Of course, building services will not escape these trends.

While most air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems remain hidden from occupants, they provide some of the most important aspects of a high-quality office.

Here, flexibility will be the watchword. Commercial property owners will need flexible spaces that can change quickly, for example, to allow for moveable partition walls that enable a space to go from small conference facility to break-out zones for teams. 

Touch-free controls also provide health benefits for occupants.

And in workplaces that offer gyms for lunch-time workouts, or cycle-spaces for two-wheeled commuting, the provision of showers and hot water in offices look set to grow.

Serious about sustainability

One outcome of this new demand for quality is that developers are snapping up older office buildings for serious makeovers and relaunches.

Often, this is not simply about cosmetic changes because today’s office tenants are taking their sustainability and low-carbon strategies very seriously: If you set a corporate sustainability goal, that must be reflected in your choice of office accommodation.

As a result, we are seeing significant growth in the refurbishment market across the UK, as office developers transform dowdy office blocks into more glamorous and sustainable Cinderellas.

These upgrades are also being driven by the upcoming tighten of MEES legislation (Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards) – no one wants a stranded asset on their hands that can’t be leased because of a poor EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating.  

Health and wellbeing

And to achieve better energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality, building services are going to be an important element of these upgrades.

Better ventilation for occupant health; more energy efficient cooling and heating; and improved building control for energy monitoring and management – all of these will be high on the agenda of building owners and designers. 

For building services engineers and installers, the challenge will be delivering upgrades that can bring some of our older office buildings up-to-date, and enable landlords to offer tenants the flexible, healthy environments that they’re looking for, as well as meeting the growing demands for sustainability, energy efficiency and workplace wellbeing.

Karen Fletcher is content director of Rocket Content and former editor of CIBSE Journal and Modern Building Services