Good news? The office is back in fashion…

Posted by Derek Mason

18th July 2023

Picture credit: Kai Pilger on Unsplash

A report commissioned by City of London chiefs suggests that as workers return to the office, the need for more (and better) office space means the city should consider fast-tracking retrofit planning policy. On the flip side, another recent survey revealed that 50% of the largest international employers are planning to cut their office space in the next three years.

Predicting what will happen over the coming decades is big business for our industry, and there are surveys and reports being commissioned left, right and centre. Whatever happens – whether we need more or less office space overall – there will be plenty of building and retrofitting going on. As people begin to see the benefits of being in the office more, they’re demanding more from those offices.

One example comes from HSBC. When their Canary Wharf lease expires in 2027, they’re returning to the City of London – to a new development, Panorama St Pauls. Industry experts say their new offices will be about half the size of their Canary Wharf base, and be “smaller, greener, more flexible”. This is not only about downsizing. The reality is this: if you want to tempt workers back to the office then you need more than the soulless surroundings where corporate headquarters are often found.

Although still notorious for being chillingly quiet at weekends, the City of London has a weekday buzz, and is much closer to the livelier parts of central London than Canary Wharf.

A survey by the thinktank, Centre for Cities, shows that office workers in central London are, on average, spending 2.3 days a week in their workplace. Almost half of workers are in the office more than that, for three, four or five days a week. Thirty-one percent only come into work two days a week.

The figures do appear to be steadily rising, but people are still spending a lot less time in the office – 59% of the time they spent in the office pre-pandemic.

The truth is that, even though some remote working can make your life a little easier, and more cost-effective (commuting can be expensive), humans are social creatures, and we learn by being around peers and leaders. It’s why we’re all fans of coming into our Twickenham office at Super Structures Associates. This helps our engineers learn from each other and enables me to pass on a lot of my experience to them to help them develop and improve their skills.

In the City of London, planners are looking at both a fast-track retrofit policy and at relaxing restrictions on change-of-use proposals for historic city office buildings where it’s not cost-effective to upgrade to grade A standard. This is another nod to office workers demanding more if they’re going to make the effort to travel into work.

With midweek commuter numbers in the city at 80% of 2019 levels (partly due to additional job creation) and at 65% on Mondays and Fridays, the city-commissioned report suggests there could be demand for up to 20 million square feet (186,000 m2) of additional office space by 2042.

This is a good thing, both for those of us working in construction who will find our services are needed, and for people generally, who I believe are more likely to thrive when they’re leaving their house on a regular basis. Yes, let’s keep some of the flexibility we benefitted from during the pandemic years, but let’s also get out into the world and see our fellow humans day-to-day. It’s how we work best.

Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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