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The future of the office and real estate

The office of the future may look very different and how we think about our workplace will be the biggest change. In commercial property, one consequence of the home working phenomenon may be that firms need far less office space. So reshaping of office environments to build future confidence and reassurance will be key.

We will no longer want to be so densely packed together, working in open plan offices and cramming into lifts. Architects are already imagining the ways buildings could help to limit the spread of future epidemics, spanning everything from the layout of interiors and public spaces, to surface coatings.

With 80% of infectious diseases transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces, a hands-free future could well catch on, eliminating direct contact with communal services, right from the street to the workstation. The office of the future may be designed around ‘contactless pathways’, meaning employees will rarely have to touch a surface with their hands to navigate through the building. Lifts can be called from a smartphone, avoiding the need to press a button both outside and in, while office doors will open automatically using motion sensors and facial recognition.

High-rise buildings would become more expensive to build and be less efficient which may reduce the economic attractiveness to developers of building tall – and super tall – towers both for offices and residential.

There has been a big increase in co-working spaces. There are clear disadvantages of open social interaction as well as shared coffee and amenity facilities. On the other hand, businesses may need more flexible space contracts and not want to put their entire team in one place.

Furniture may change too. Office desks have shrunk over the years, from 1.8m to 1.6m to now 1.4m and less, so there may be a reversal of that as people won’t want to sit so close together.

Legislation might also be introduced to mandate a minimum area per person in offices, as well as a reduction in maximum occupancy for lifts and larger lobbies to minimise overcrowding.

What does the future hold for co-working and flexible office space?

The current crisis looks set to accelerate the evolving trend for businesses having smaller regional, sub-urban or even rural ‘touch-down’ offices as large corporations look to ‘de-densify’ their offices.

This migration away from the larger cities should result in a reduction in city centre congestion, reduced commuting times, improved productivity and an improved work-life balance for thousands of office workers. This improved work-life balance also feeds into the increasingly crucial role that wellness is playing in the workplace and will assist employers with attracting and retaining staff.

Whilst many people have discovered that they can work from home, that does not mean that they will want to do so forever. Humans are intrinsically social creatures and many will still crave a sense of community. Therefore the ability to meet and collaborate in a safe office environment will still be required as teamwork is and will continue to be a huge element of a successful business. Although the office of the future is likely to have a very different look and feel from the current ‘desk-dominated’ environments, it will still have a role to play in providing a space in which teams can meet, collaborate and, in time, socialise.


Read more from this edition of Ahead of the Curve

Table of contents

Feature one:

Practical Futurist Andrew Gril looks at the new normal and how technology can be used to effect lasting change as we return to work.


Feature two:

The challenge for restaurants has rarely been greater; with the rise of app based delivery services and now coronavirus, how can the leisure and hospitality sector adapt to survive?


Feature four:

Our regular feature looks at the workforce of the future. How has the coronavirus lockdown impacted on how we all work? And what will this look like going forward?


Feature five:

Graphcore are a company to keep an eye on. We spoke to Nigel Toon, CEO of Graphcore – a Bristol  business which brings Brunel spirit to a modern problem.


Feature six:

The housing market has been severely hit by the lockdown with sever restrictions on house viewings. But now things have started to free up, how can the industry future-proof itself?


Feature seven:

The health and social care sector has been at the epicentre of the coronavurus pandemic. Will this solution keep residents safe, whilst managing their need for social interaction?


Feature eight:

Video conferencing has been one of the heroes of lockdown. From social quizzes to board meetings – but people who have experienced a brain injury may find VC challenging…


Feature nine:

The book review – The new long life. Our regular book review feature, this time we look at The New Long Life, a book that looks at the challenges and opportunities of longevity.


Feature ten:

Coronavirus has moved the concept of climate away from the front and centre of many peoples minds, but should we be taking this opportunity build back a greener future?


Feature eleven:

In our regular feature Leading Edge, a selected charity is offered exclusive access to the back page of our magazine, this month it is CESA, the cauda equina syndrome charity.

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