Flexible living room with modern decor

Flexibility is fundamental

Reflections from Director Richard Hutchinson on what occupiers want from their workspaces – giving his insight on their appetite for maximum flexibility with 100 per cent functionality.

This article is by Richard Hutchinson

Richard is a director at LOM who leads a wide range of architectural and interior design commissions in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Australia.

When Covid came to the UK and the lockdowns started, flexibility was about where you worked more than how you worked.  It was all about enabling people to stay healthy, to work from home and about sustaining business and organisational continuity.

As everyone has found a way through the challenge, now flexibility really is about how you work and how you blend different workplaces and spaces with the different responsibilities and actions we all need to get done in our jobs.  There’s been a massive upheaval to the world of work and, at times, some fairly existential questioning about what work is and where it needs to happen.

“An office is the heartbeat of any business.”

As I reflect on what my clients are seeing and doing – and how we’re helping them to navigate that journey – what I’m seeing more than anything else is a desire for occupiers to have maximum flexibility with 100 per cent functionality.  I think this will be one of the big issues for all real estate professionals in 2023.  Namely how to feed the occupier appetite for adaptability and variety in the workplace versus making those spaces genuinely fit for purpose and supportive of the activities that need to happen there.

That’s a balance of course.  Flexibility can be the enemy of specificity.  There are times when a highly bespoke setting is needed.  So a major challenge – and opportunity – is for architects and designers like us to bring the best of our creativity and design buildings and interiors that hit both objectives.

One of my major projects is a corporate HQ building for Santander where part of the solution has been to see the building as a sandwich with workspace and amenity wrapping around a co-working space filling.  In this example, the bank achieves floorplates for its people which are specified to suit and, to give it additional flexibility, has the potential to use the co-working space for overspill and other activity.  The co-working space operates as an enabler of additional flexibility because people can move into and use it as and when it offers the better solution to the configured floorplates in the rest of the building.  I like that and I think we’ll see more of it as occupiers seek to build in safety valves and different ways to manage expansion and contraction of teams.

Talking about floorplates, the other step change we’re seeing is in how floors – and to an extent buildings – are increasingly seen as ‘stages’ upon which the job of work plays out.

This means viewing a workspace more like a stage set and thinking about how it could and should change when the action changes.  So changing the fixtures around the actors/occupiers as the story of what they need to do moves on.  In a workspace, this can mean re-configuring furniture, re-zoning areas for particular uses, or more subtle adjustments to give spaces a different atmosphere through lighting for example.  In all of these, one needs to balance the extent to which spaces are a blank canvas with everything moveable.  Or how certain anchors are in fact needed and better for enabling the main function a particular floor or space has.

“What I’m seeing more than anything else is a desire for occupiers to have maximum flexibility with 100 per cent functionality.”

This is a real conundrum and not easy to solve.  But what I think we will certainly see is occupiers continuing to adjust and experiment with space as we all look to achieve the optimum workplace – and that means spaces that are flexible and adaptable.

What do I expect to see more of in 2023?  I’m sure it will be the continuation of really scrutinising what the office is for so that it works for organisations and occupiers alike.  For me, an office is the heartbeat of any business where people come together and the ethos of the firm is forged.

I expect to see demanding occupiers driving continual experimentation and adjustment.  The pandemic may be over in the UK but the implications for change in UK real estate are still very much alive.

Flexibility is and will remain fundamental.

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