Future of workspace is about placemaking, mixed use and community

How do we create workspace of the future that meets the needs of employers and employees, while developing sustainable town centres? We found out at our latest City Makers’ Forum.

The way we use workspace is changing and the built environment sector needs to gear up for this shift. Occupancy rates in office have dropped dramatically and no-one knows if hybrid working is here to stay.

We brought together practitioners focused on creating workspace that responds to these trends while remaining flexible enough to adapt to changing working patterns.

Clear themes emerged: a placemaking approach was favoured; considering the mix of uses is vital, and the needs of local communities should be a top priority.

Video: Andrew Caruso of Hatch explains why chief executives want
workspaces that will help restore organisational culture after Covid


Workspace trends show office occupancy is down

Our speakers Andrew and Kara outlined some key statistics and trends affecting the way we use and plan for workspace in London:

  • 47% of people who work from home report improved wellbeing.
  • Pre-lockdown, the average office occupancy was 67%, compared to 48% now.
  • Desk occupancy was 42% compared to 26% now.

Improved wellbeing perhaps relates to commuting, the ability to exercise or choices of food during the working day. If we’re to create workspaces that attract people in and keep them healthy and happy, planners and designers need to consider the broader offer beyond a desk and the mix of uses when developing workspace.

But the truth is, we don’t know how much of the trend towards hybrid or homeworking is here to stay. What we do know, outlined by Kara, is that only 37% of employees feel their environments are fit for purpose for the way they now work.

So we have a long way to go to understand the changes and adapt workspace to reflect this. And we need to keep an open mind when planning for future workspace. Our session outlined some useful concepts to direct our thinking.

Gearing up for the future

The Old Oak and Park Royal development is huge – it covers over 640 hectares with 2000 existing businesses and an ambition to create over 2.5 million square ft of new commercial space. Few of our network will be working on opportunities of this scale, but Eleanor put forward some the need to focus on good placemaking, mix and a focus on community when planning workspace.

Two images indicating placemaking at Park Royal. On the left volunteers are planting flowers on a car-dominated street. on the right, volunteers are litter picking on the canal

Placemaking for working lives

Eleanor talked from her experience from Park Royal of humanising industrial areas. This means thinking about how areas dominated by workplaces can become “neighbourhoods of work”. By including other uses that workers can spend time into eat, pray or exercise, we can make these parts of town more civilised.

Importance of mixed use

We heard about the importance of mix in Sutton from Patricia Park at Sutton BID. A suburban town centre, Sutton faired well during lockdown. It has four supermarkets on a mile long high street, meaning it had sustained footfall. More Sutton residents are now working in hybrid style and commuting less into central London. This means the town centre has become an attractive prospect for workspace.

Sutton’s Business Improvement District has witnessed an increase in demand for hot desking, meeting rooms and training rooms from business centres. They have also seen an increase in SME start-ups in the town. Covid has been a catalyst for people setting up businesses with their own style of working according to their values.

Workspace reflecting community values

Kara reflected that since Covid, workers are understandably more demanding of their work environment and want it to give them meaning and purpose. So workspace space needs to reflect employees individual and community values.

A triangle diagram indicating people's priorities for their workspace. The diagram goes from short term at the bottom to long term at the top. At the bottom is material offerings, followed by opportunities to develop and grow, connection and community with meaning and purpose at the top

Eleanor drew inspiration from the previous paternalistic approach by companies such as Heinz. They viewed their staff as a community and offered range of things besides a place to work and a salary!

Four black and white images depicting workplace activities in the 1930s and 40s. They include a sports day, a dance and scenes from the Guinness staff canteen. The caption reads Placemaking, Mix and Community @ Park Royal

Flexibility is key the workspace of the future

It’s a familiar concept to urban designers, architects and planners, but a focus on flexibility is absolutely key if we are to create successful workspace for the future. This is especially true right now when we don’t know if current trends will continue.

Eleanor advised about being agnostic about what sectors you are planning to attract. To be future-proof, create spaces that can be adapted for different types of workspace over the years.

This approach has proved successful at our venue, The Depot where post-Covid they removed desks, added a coffee shop and put art on the walls. These small changes transformed the space from an office to a creative co-working space that encourages collaboration.

“If I were to hedge my bets on what the future holds, it would be an increase in adaptable spaces that allow for flexibility for creatives, food and beverage and retail as well office spaces”

Patricia Park, CEO, Successful Sutton BID

Focus on the users

Our panel and audience agree that ultimately, as with all placemaking, creating good workspace for the future comes down to creating spaces with the end user in mind. All of those working on the creation or redevelopment of workspace need to engage with users to keep up with the changes in demands from our places of work.

Download the slides from our event here

The City Makers’ Forum covers the big urban topics and provides a place for the future leaders of our cities to build their professional network. Look out for more events from the City Makers’ Forum by signing up to our newsletter. If you have an idea for a theme you’d like us to focus on next, please email Sarah.

City Makers’ Forum is supported by Hatch.

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