The takeaway has been that flexible space isn’t a trend, something that corporations like to lean on, to add to their congratulatory list of company implementations, that they can market to prospective employees to appear relevant and hip to the times. The truth is that flexible office space is an evolution, inching forward to where we are today, fundamentally different ways landlords use their buildings and retain tenants and how businesses entice employees and promote productivity.
Consider that we are three times as likely to have a natural disaster, that in the next decade, 800 million people will be displaced by automation, not to mention the effects of the pandemic, or that employees are changing jobs more than ever before. In addition, the desire to work from home or independently of the workplace has made it harder to predict the design of the modern office. But, as the old saying goes, nothing is more certain than change, and in today’s marketplace, flexibility has become as important as the space itself; no one is sure of what the future holds.
Flexible leases have become the new industry norm. 68% of landlords have said that providing flexible leasing options will be an important part of their leasing strategy post-COVID, proving that this is indeed a tenants’ market. How businesses provide for their workers with these new conditions will be imperative to performance. In 1996 the average length of lease in London was 21.7 years, compared to now, where a drop of 75% leaves landlords with an average of five and a half years*. This is great for those wanting flexibility, but how do landlords cope with these changes?
Obviously, in certain buildings, the right amenity will lead to the right tenant. Finding the balance to appeal to a range of tenants while also being tailored to suit their individual brand or aesthetic is the challenge and the need for the future office.
What this says is that the future office is elastic. Not every office or building needs to be suited to everyone; in fact the very idea of adding flexibility to appeal to everyone ends up with a generic office with no personality that serves no one. And an empty building.
During the pandemic, Lauren McCormack worked with Development Manager Artifex, who invested significant capital in repositioning 412 St Kilda Road to the market to entice occupants back to the building once restrictions eased. “We delivered an initial round of eight Speculative Suites designed by Gray Puksand, which were available to the market and acted as display suites for prospective tenants. With multiple additional vacant floors, incoming tenants who desire something more could capitalise on our flexible turn-key delivery plan—continuing the Design Development phase with our in-house design team Studio 103, in conjunction with their lease arrangements”. This method allowed for flexibility in customisation and solidified another eight lease deals, providing the incoming tenants with greater control of their workspace requirements and final design.
The results of the annual workplace survey conducted by Hassell found that those from creative and design service industries are more likely to value better coffee, a more sustainable workplace and creative or maker spaces. At the same time, employees in marketing and communication value networking opportunities and better food and retail nearby.
Whatever the industry, tailored solutions and flexibility can work together. The days of the fixed workplace are dead; long live the flexible workplace. In a tenant’s market, it is the landlords that will have to come to the party with short leases and flexible options if they want to fill their spaces.
As a result of the massive upheaval the pandemic created, we have all witnessed the fast-track adaptability exhibited by businesses and employers. The Hassell survey went on to say that of all participants, 42% would prefer a shorter commute with more space to focus (34%), while almost half (49%) of those surveyed would like free lunch and food. Whatever the desire of the new employee, staff retention and productivity will depend on companies providing for them if they survive in the post-pandemic world. The future office will be determined by the happiness of this new bloc of employees and a new normal. Providing for them will dictate the design and occupation of the office for years to come.