Rethinking Place

Richard Howard • 02/06/2020

The events of the last few weeks have forced people to reappraise almost every aspect of their lives – how workspace will be used being one of the key discussion points. Some predict a Ballardian, sequestered world where isolation is the theme. However, given the societal and collaborative instincts built into the human psyche, this seems unlikely in the extreme. While there may be some differences in what a workplace looks like and how it operates, people will still want to be in the same space to think together and evolve their businesses and fulfil their professional ambitions. To quote none other than Albert Einstein, “creativity is intelligence having fun”. Which is not going to be achieved on a Zoom call.

As well as the workspace itself, there is what surrounds it – public realm, retail, food and beverage offers, and everything else that would draw an occupier to a particular environment. This too will be a much needed (perhaps more so than ever) component of working life – it is interesting to consider how this might be articulated in the future, and to consider what we may see in the near- to mid-term, and possibly longer, as we return to a semblance of normality. 

Something that was already firmly on the agenda pre-coronavirus was wellness and the importance of what an office location could offer in this respect. This will almost certainly take on more significance in the new world, and spaces that had been given over to commercial activities could be switched to areas that allow office occupiers to exercise and contemplate without being in a busy crowd. A developer that can genuinely show an occupier a riverside boardwalk, some world class extensive exercise facilities, a proper urban park that is just that – a quiet, reflective space with generous planting and little else – may well have the most compelling proposition. 

The provision of retail and food and beverage offers may well take on a different tone. The operators that have felt the most pressure have, predictably, been the smaller, more independent operators. This may mean a much more collaborative (even to the point of joint venture) approach by a developer in order to sustain businesses like these in challenging times (as well as easing the costs of fitting out which is often a key stumbling block to a smaller operator). It may also mean that larger operators become more attractive – they can provide larger spaces which will allow for increased social distancing should another crisis arise. 

Another possible trend that will emerge from current conditions is a reversal of the current “sharing” mindset – shared terraces and rooftop gardens, shared cafes, shared lobbies, shared bike spaces etc. One theme that has been prevalent as occupiers contemplate their return to being operational is that, whatever plans they make for their own return to using their building, if they are sharing all of the facilities above with other occupiers, it is a significant challenge. For example, it is all very well to have the “red team” and the “blue team” working alternate days to reduce contamination, but for it to work, it would need to coincide with all the other occupiers in the building – who may have completely different regimes. Occupiers may well require their own outside spaces, holding areas and food/beverage facilities in order to manage their strategies independently. 

On this note, a new attitude to place management may well emerge. With some exceptions, most occupiers have favoured well-managed, light touch regimes in terms of their immediate environment. Now, the developer that can offer: 

  • a system that integrates with local public transport 
  • robust management of people movement around a campus or perhaps,
  • third party remote temperature testing...  

...may well be the one that an occupier is drawn to, by taking away a lot of the ‘headache’ of being in an office location.

It is encouraging to see the many creative ways people are addressing the current situation and there is no doubt that this creativity will continue as people push to get back to work. This piece started with a quote from Albert Einstein – to reference another of the great thinkers of the 20th Century (Dolly Parton) “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”, and there is no doubt that some of the most intelligent, exacting developers in the world will reinvent things to offer what occupiers will need in the near to mid-term future.” 



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