Changing Expectations for the Next-Generation Office
Clare Dowdy is a journalist and writer specialising in the workplace and the built environment. Contributor to the Financial Times, Wallpaper, Monocle, The Guardian and BBC.com/designed, she had a column in the workplace design magazine, OnOffice. Clare chairs panel discussions on the workplace at industry events and is curator of Power House: the architecture of data centres, at Roca Gallery London, opening November 2021. Author of Made in London: from workshop to factory, published by Merrell Publishers in 2022.
In a world in which work will be a hybrid, blended or dynamic affair, the quality of the office cannot be underestimated. In the future, employees are likely to come into the office to perform tasks that suffer when conducted remotely, says Adam Steel, strategic foresight editor at futures consultancy, The Future Laboratory. He cites “work that requires collaboration, conviviality and cross-pollination of ideas”.
With their generous floorplates, offices like Medibank’s HQ in Melbourne’s Docklands and Dublin’s 60 Dawson Street create opportunities for occasional but rewarding human contact. It’s these sorts of environments which will be sought out. For Steel, “buildings that prioritise people’s wellbeing lend themselves to this kind of work, with positive experiences encouraging people to share ideas.” And office buildings with flexible floorplates give occupiers the opportunity for post-pandemic layout and design.
As city centres from Europe and North America to the Far East revive, the varied and vibrant will thrive. Office staff enjoy rubbing shoulders with enticing boutiques, bars and restaurants. It’s this sort of mix that makes a city buzz, and which for many people equates with a good quality lifestyle. Ground-floor retail and hospitality offers also anchor the building to the community, and contribute to the notion of the walkable city – much-prized by fleet-of-foot professionals who are attracted to metropolises which accommodate their aspirations.
As society shifts to a more benign work-life balance, the concept of the 15-minute city – an ambitious urban planning concept promoting the liveability of a city – is getting traction. Paris is the 15-minute city’s poster boy, with its walkable communities in which people can live and access most of their daily needs within 15 minutes of active transport, (walking or cycling). Madrid, Milan, Melbourne, Dublin, Ottawa and Seattle are among those to have declared their intentions to follow suit.
In recent times, the Irish diaspora has recognised all this, with expat families giving up their existences in New York City, Hong Kong, Sydney, Perth and London to take advantage of Dublin’s attributes.
Good quality workplaces contribute to a city’s liveability for a host of reasons. Office environments which are better for the health and wellbeing of their occupiers score highly with bosses, as productivity is boosted, while absenteeism, staff turnover and presenteeism (being at work while ill) fall.
LEED Gold-rated buildings and those with the WELL Building Standard have gone to great lengths to improve access to natural light and air quality. And with good reason. According to research by the US Joint Commission, 40% of all sickness absence is down to indoor air pollution or poor air quality. Staff have picked this up. The Future Workplace study undertaken in North America concluded that of all environmental factors, indoor air quality mattered most to employees.
Natural light also has tangible benefits. A study by Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis found that in offices with natural light, employees showed an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision symptoms, which often detract from productivity levels.
In contrast, 47% of employees feel tired or very tired due to an absence of natural light at work, according to study from Harvard Business Review.
Workplace designers are also following the science when it comes to biophilia. Biophilic design mimics the environments found in nature with generous greenery. UK charity Mind asserts that being in nature or green spaces can boost our feelings of calm, and reduce our feelings of stress and anger.
Amazon takes this so seriously that it put 40,000 plants in the Spheres, three huge glass domes at its Seattle HQ. Meanwhile Lendlease has a verdant HQ in Sydney HQ, and The Crown Estate’s WELL-certified Mayfair office, One Heddon Street, has a living wall, indoor garden, and planted trees on each floor. The result there? Estimated productivity improvements of 25%.
Along with good ventilation, natural light and lush greenery, there are other benefits shared by exemplary LEED Gold buildings such as Two International Finance Center in Hong Kong, 60 Dawson Street in Dublin, Seoul’s Kolon One & Only Tower, and 150 North Riverside in Chicago. These attributes include renewable energy generation, rainwater harvesting, occupancy control sensors to help with energy conservation, and lighting control.
Producing a high-quality building with a low environmental impact is also good for the planet. Corporates appreciate this, and are increasingly choosing their next workplaces with such considerations front of mind. “We don’t have a client that doesn’t want to try and reduce the impact of their project, it’s a constant and common language,” says Clive Hall, technical director of workplace designers BDG architecture + design.
Around the world, elite tenants snap such buildings up, as they recognise that their workplaces can be practical expressions of their ethos – a showcase to staff, clients and collaborators. “People will want to pay a premium for that, as it demonstrates they’re serious about their commitments,” says Hall.
Bloomberg’s global head of capital and design Paul Logan echoes this: “We create global workplaces that our employees are proud of coming into every day,” he says. “It’s not just a reflection of our commitment to minimize the firm’s environmental impact, but also a company culture that prioritizes collaboration and productivity facilitated by dynamic design.”
Savvy corporates are also attracted by the lower energy costs that a sustainably-built building can offer. Since Bloomberg moved its operations into 19 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold offices around the world, its lighting power has been reduced by 25%.
Certain cities with international pull – Hong Kong and Dublin – have long been a magnet for corporate HQ’s, from tech giants and big pharma to financial services. In built-up cities like Hong Kong, Seoul, Chicago, a worker’s WELL- and LEED Gold-certified office can be a respite from the travails of big city living. In smaller places such as Milan, Cologne or Dublin it is part of the liveable mix.
The future for such cities is bright, and with the arrival of more exemplary city centre office environments, the future for their office life is brighter still.
Clare Dowdy speaking to international corporates, architects and designers about the future of the office, ahead of the opening of 60 Dawson Street and Grafton Place in central Dublin in spring 2023. Developed by MARK and BCP, the 190,000sqft first-of-its-kind site will comprise next-generation office space at 60 Dawson Street and retail at Grafton Place. Underpinning this mixed-use scheme are preeminent environmental credentials, including a 9,000sq ft biodiverse roof, on-site renewable electricity and sustainable construction materials, amongst others.