Businesses across the UK are rethinking the role of the workplace thanks to increased remote working, employees demanding more flexibility and the evolution of smart building features. However, although the events of 2020 have handed firms an opportunity to make transformational changes, many are as yet unwilling to take steps to do so.
This is according to insights in The Way Forward, a report based on a series of interviews with senior industry leaders gathered by building transformation experts LMG, to explore attitudes around real estate strategy and the evolving role of the workspace.
Rethinking, not relocating
Almost two thirds (60%) of interviewees said that factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic and employees’ need for flexible working options have led them to re-assess their real estate strategies. However, just over a tenth (14%) said that they would actively be making such changes within the next two years.
Strikingly, none of the respondents interviewed said they were planning to either buy new real estate or get rid of existing spaces. Instead, a fifth (20%) of respondents said they were planning to enhance existing spaces with new technology. A further 12% said they were considering implementing features in their buildings to improve employee safety and experience.
Almost a third (30%) of interviewees said that by making changes to their real estate, they hoped to achieve a combination of benefits around improving connectivity, facilitating collaboration and flexible working and increasing productivity.
These considerations outweighed other, perhaps more ‘fundamental’ benefits such as saving money (3%) or reducing time and resources spent on facilities management (3%).
Health and wellbeing move up corporate real estate agenda
This issue of employee wellbeing is one which dominates the research findings, Covid-19 has clearly dominated all business decisions throughout 2020 with almost two thirds (61%) of interviewees claiming the pandemic and the issue of employee health and safety have driven them to reassess the strategic value of the workspace.
Almost three quarters (73%) say that health and wellbeing has moved up their agenda and almost a third (32%) of those said they hope to increase employee wellbeing and future-proof their workspaces against future health emergencies by making changes to their real estate.
Although businesses may be uneasy or non-committal about investing in health and wellbeing features currently, they do seem to be placing significant value on measures and tools aimed at increasing and improving connectivity and unified communications.
Based on average scores out of 10, the following systems all scored eight: mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity, unified communications and access control systems. Features such as videoconferencing are cited by respondents as being a particular priority, as well as space and occupancy control measures such as company apps and desk booking systems.
Mike Hook, executive director at LMG, comments: “Creating this reliable, robust backbone of connectivity – of every type – is critical if we are to be successful in using technology to establish compelling new standards for workspaces and engender new working cultures within organisations.
“From changing the design of space to encourage more people to come into the office, to using employee apps to monitor demand and finding out how spaces are being used, these tools are hugely beneficial in enhancing the potential of every workspace.”
The research shows that 45% of businesses having made little or no progress in their transformation journey even if they do want to make a change. A further 36% say they have no need to take further action regarding their real estate, claiming to have completed all the changes they think are necessary and planning no more for the foreseeable future.
For almost a fifth (19%) of respondents, government or legislative issues are the cause of their hesitation, and a further 19% said uncertainty and the unknown was causing their business to wait before making any related decisions. Only 4% said cost was a prohibiting factor in moving ahead with such plans.
“Apart from the small number who have already made great strides in upgrading their workspaces, this research shows that the huge majority of business leaders are not taking the opportunity to transform their workspaces presented to them by the pandemic,” says Hook.