Working Beyond Walls

Stuart Flaxton
Supporting flexible working practices is a standard requirement for office fit-outs as companies reduce real estate costs and attract the best talent.

The office has become just one workplace option as the tools for supporting effective working become increasingly accessible and mobile. Many companies have embraced more flexible working patterns and locations, and adapted their real estate portfolio to better support this.

An office providing an average of 12 square metres of space per person, each with a permanent desk, was once typical, but we now routinely see eight square metres or less, as well as the introduction of desk sharing. The shift away from permanently allocated personal space has coincided with an acknowledgement that collaborative and break-out spaces contribute towards a positive and productive environment.

However, collaborative areas, on their own, do not meet everyone’s needs. Individuals perform best in environments suited to their personal style of working and while some people benefit from team energy, and using collaborative areas to interact, others function less well in this environment.

An office devoid of quieter areas may not get the best from people who prefer to do their creative thinking surrounded by a degree of quiet or privacy. Increasingly, our clients complement their collaborative spaces with more private zones, and space that may be awkward to use, such as adjacent to columns etc, can help with this.

The transition to new ways of working can produce unexpected consequences. Some companies are surprised that despite investing in tools to support home working, staff still prefer to come into the office. This may well be due to work reasons, but sometimes it is simply a fear that they will not be considered to be working as hard as their colleagues in the office. Therefore, if flexible working is to be successful, it needs to become an embedded behaviour rather than something staff are just expected to adopt as soon as it is available.

This cultural change needs to be led from the top, through senior managers using the collaborative space...

This cultural change needs to be led from the top, through senior managers using the collaborative space and demonstrating their willingness to work from home if there is a drive to promote this. The provision of communication tools and their operational support are vital if staff are to participate remotely in meetings and share presentations, but this alone will not be successful if attending internal meetings in person remains the company default position.

Monitoring the response to flexible and remote working enables new solutions to be developed. Most individuals sometimes need to come into the office, but once they have experienced the choice, their need and behaviour can be further explored. To better understand work patterns, for example, staff can be asked whether their office priority is its location or its facilities.

One of our financial services clients discovered that many staff visiting its central London offices could achieve the same outcomes from an alternative office. They mapped their existing real estate against staff’s home addresses and identified geographically convenient satellite offices in low-cost locations. Flexible spaces were provided in these smaller offices and the central London visits reduced significantly. This informed our client’s strategic decisions on prime central London real estate.

Technology continues to make workspace more efficient.

Technology continues to make workspace more efficient. Finding people in large offices can be difficult without permanently allocated desking and while establishing team zones or groups of desks where teams are encouraged to locate are a possibility, this does affect the true flexibility of the office.

An alternative is the allocation of IDs for each desk and the introduction of a live desk booking system for all locations, but this needs good management to maximise availability and restrict block bookings.

A more recent innovation in collaboration spaces or touch-down areas is the installation of sensors to track mobile phone signals, identifying individuals as they move around the building. This also illustrates which teams interact most, facilitating future space planning. The same technology can improve the customer experience in client-facing areas, ensuring that the welcome and next step are well co-ordinated.

...space flexibility and future-proofing are key for developers, tenants and owner occupiers.

In our experience of leading global workspace projects, space flexibility and future-proofing are key for developers, tenants and owner occupiers. Developers strive to maintain flexibility in the office design to attract the widest range of tenants. For many projects, full Category A fit-out has given way to ‘shell and floor’ provision, to allow tenants’ individual specifications to be incorporated and avoid having to strip out an installation which doesn’t suit their needs.

As always, an alignment of both the landlord’s and tenant’s needs produces the best result, and we find that facilitating the tenant’s early engagement with the landlord produces best value.

Faithful+Gould’s integrated project and programme management approach ensures that the project is the right one. We help clients define their brief, assess their priorities and decide exactly how they want to occupy their space. The aim is to think beyond the walls – to ensure the real estate portfolio is designed to support the business and not the other way around.