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Flexibility, wellbeing, and social value: three marks of the future office

TFT Partner Alistair Allison chaired the judging panel for the British Council of Offices’ recent South of England and Wales Awards. From a strong pool of entries, Ali and his fellow judges visited and reviewed a selection of the best offices from around the region, which stood out for their forward-thinking designs focused on the needs of occupiers. 

We asked Ali: what stood out from this year’s selection? And what can we expect from leading office designs in the future?

Alistair Allison gives his Judge's Chair speech at the BCO South Awards
Alistair Allison giving his Judge’s Chair speech at the BCO South Awards

In my speech at the BCO Awards, I called out buzz-words like ‘sustainability’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘agile working’ and the like, which we’re all too familiar with but, thankfully, are becoming better understood as part of the client brief and design process, graduating from more superficial marketing claims.

Accordingly, I noticed that the best offices on the judges’ visits delivered tangible benefits through design, improving the experience of occupants and, therefore, the long-term prospects for owners.

While occupational density has remained consistent, design is making offices into places people want to be. Space is increasingly given over from the traditional office floor plate for specific activities, such as group working, hot-desking, concentration, relaxing or even yoga.

Perhaps it’s the rise of new developments, which dominated the entries this year, providing a ‘blank canvas’ for these design decisions. It’s an encouraging sign of a confident market; by comparison, the previous two years featured refurbished or recycled buildings in almost half of the entries. The fact that the ratio has changed this year is a result of where we are in the cycle, but nonetheless reassuring. If these new buildings are enabling the next generation of office development to flourish, I’m excited to see quality and occupant-centric design become more widespread across the sector.

We’re pleased to help our clients embrace these fundamentals too. 400 & 450 Longwater Avenue is a new office development in Green Park, Reading, targeting a WELL accreditation along with an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating, assuring a high standard of wellbeing for its occupants alongside high sustainable credentials. When complete the scheme will offer a flexible, premium space which is set up for speculative occupiers with all kinds of requirements thanks to an easily-divisible floorplan, and these credentials provide further incentive for businesses which understand that wellbeing and sustainability in the workplace is becoming a minimum requirement for employees and customers alike.  

But what sits beyond these badges or certifications?

One area which shows a great deal of potential for us is social value; the extent to which a place or space contributes positively to its neighbouring environment and community. It’s defined in different ways by different stakeholders, so risks becoming a nebulous and complex subject, but in terms of meeting the challenge of sustainable development it has huge potential. We foresee that as social value is more clearly defined, so occupiers and therefore owners will rank it more highly in their criteria for buildings – in much the same process as wellbeing is seen today, and that sustainability was once seen.

We are hugely excited by this opportunity, and are working with the UKGBC to produce a framework and guidance for the industry which formalises and clarifies the role of social value for a range of applications in the industry. 

In the coming years, I hope these steps will drive more interest in positive social impacts and that ‘the best of the best’ is seen increasingly in terms of what a building adds to the community within its walls and beyond – who knows, maybe we can skip the buzzword stage this time!