London's Future Office Occupier Requirements

Tuesday 6 December 2011

The office occupier of the future will require more adaptable, efficient and technologically progressive spaces to get the most out of their assets and lure the best staff.

This was the headline finding from a special conference at the NLA yesterday on London’s future office occupier requirements, sponsored by GVA and chaired by Property Week’s Giles Barrie. 

The conference heard that demand for new offices would be driven largely by changing demographics, GVA’s director of occupier services Howard Cooke warning that the UK’s ageing population could give rise to 10 per cent of office space becoming surplus to requirements. Space requirements will be less about cost and more about ‘value for money’, he said, with greater flexibility, more collaborative, ‘hotel-like’ space, and the likely growth sectors being those in technology, media and small business. ‘Work is what you do, not where you go’, he said. 

But at the same time, firms such as Price Waterhouse Coopers, where the average age is 28, were showing that younger staff are seeking more in the way of new ways of working, sustainable features, extra facilities, and proximity to bars and restaurants, as well as displaying a notable lack of interest in parking facilities. PwC’s More London building, for example, part of the company’s drive to get 90% efficiency across the group, along with a modern refurbishment of its Embankment Place site, has 260 bike racks to replace car spaces. PwC estate director Paul Harrington said the company was using space more intelligently, with better ratios and creation of more ‘inspiring’ spaces. ‘Open plan used to mean battery farming, squeezing in as many desks as possible. We’re moving now to more free range’, he said. Property is less about the bottom line and more about marketing, recruitment and efficiency. 

British Land’s Paul Burgess said that ‘the days of oversupply in central London had gone’, with ‘the most constricted supply side I have ever known.’ But keys to success in providing space in the future will be to do with connectivity, ‘presence with new sensitivities’ as regards green issues, as well as openness and transparency. Structural adaptability so tenants can adjust the base build, was also important, and so that more staff members could feel proud of the place in which they work. 

A greater degree of refurbishing older stock might be one way forward, said Wade Scaramucci of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, showing the cost and energy benefits of schemes like the Angel Building. These could result in ‘cleaner, leaner’ buildings, while Cordless Group consulting director Matthew Wailling said that technological advances such as the Cloud will bring efficiencies, firms like Rentokil providing an example in pushing facilities onto the Cloud only for their 25,000 office-based staff. The future will likely bring in more ‘Jelly bean working’ – essentially where people working on documents can see the real time presence of others through colour codes similar to the reds and greens used to show whether someone is online in software such as Skype. 

Presenting a series of trends in occupiers as they relate to different sectors, managing partner of KKS Strategy Katrina Kostic Samen agreed that flexible working patterns and new technology will be important drivers in the way forward. There will also be scope for a greater use of natural light, improving infrastructure to cope with growing densities, perhaps more developers offering shared facility as at 20 Fenchurch Street, and serving a growing mobile workforce that works non-traditional hours: ‘It’s not going to be about presenteeism’, said Kostic Samen, ‘but productivity’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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