I spent yesterday at the NLA's future workplace conference – which was packed with interesting speakers and discussions.
In recent years, London has seen a reduction in office space, explained by NLA Chairman Peter Murray as the result of a loss of industrial spaces, as well as change of use under permitted development rights (B1 to C3 use). However, this conference pointed to the idea that the ‘office’ as it is traditionally known, is a dated typology.
“The office is evolving into a service rather than an asset”, noted the aptly named Head of Futures Group of Cushman & Wakefield during the first debate. This preceded a presentation from the Vice President of Real Estate from WeWork; one of an innovative surge in companies that are providing workspaces, hot desks and offices to help nurture small start-up businesses. Their ethos is centred on wellbeing: providing social inclusivity, community spaces, hosting events and ultimately, offering a work place in which people can be happy.
A presentation from Fred Pilbrow of Pilbrow & Partners called for architects to design buildings that facilitate change by providing a flexible floor plate, break-out spaces and social hubs for formal or informal meetings. The workplace could be summed up just as PwC’s Real Estate Director referred to their headquarters as “a business hotel”, envisioning it as a place to ‘check-in’ as and when required.
Today, the ‘workplace’ can be anywhere with an internet connection. Advancements in technology have not only changed the way we work but also blurred the boundary of the conventional 9 to 5 workday, which has brought changes in the way in which buildings are used; many hotels, cafes and restaurants are now also providing places to sit and work. A talk from Tibbalds Director, Jennifer Ross, stressed the need to incorporate industry within mixed-use developments and not just move it out of our city centres. As the office becomes a more and more flexible place, so should planning policies – the nature of work is changing rapidly and the ‘use class’ system is struggling to keep up.