By Will Hean

AS the vaccine roll-out continues apace and the Scottish Government tentatively removes restrictions, there is a renewed focus on when and how people will return to the office. Employees are eager and anxious about the prospect of physically working alongside colleagues and this feeling is shared by employers who are reviewing office spaces, revising flexible working policies, and updating asset management and IT strategies.

The other parties working to anticipate and reflect changing requirement are property developers and landlords. In some cases, these are brand new developments, such as JP Morgan’s European technology hub which Osborne+Co is currently delivering in Glasgow and which will accommodate up to 2,700 staff. In other cases, developers are repurposing existing buildings to create well-designed and modern spaces. An example is the redevelopment of the former Glasgow College Building, Met Tower which will see the creation of a major mixed-use development within the city’s Innovation District.

This occupier-focused approach is not new; buildings are rarely built speculatively and with no end-user in mind. However, Covid has been a catalyst for a refined approach. Demand for space has changed, as quality takes priority over quantity and there is a sharper focus on sustainable places that prioritise social, economic and environmental considerations.

In addition to new buildings being constructed with green building materials, developers must take a long-term view and minimise the environmental footprint of buildings over their full lifecycle. Existing office stock will be the focus of refreshed scrutiny, too. Investors and landlords will consider how they can best bring into use older buildings with development potential. This is what are doing with Met Tower, where we are mindful of zero net carbon goals and the importance of light and space. Our view is that employers will look to occupy less but better space, more suitable for team meetings and touch down areas, rather than rows of workstations.

Meeting employees’ needs is non-negotiable. We know that people, particularly those at the start of their careers, seek bright, flexible, collaborative spaces and leisure facilities that will allow them to look after their physical and mental health. Previous Mindspace research found that 21 per cent of 18-24 year olds have rejected a potential employer on account of poor office design or lack of amenities.

However, good ventilation and a smattering of break-out spaces are not enough to attract and retain talent. Research by the Fraser of Allander Institute found at the forefront of employers’ minds is how to boost and maintain productivity and creativity, especially as hybrid working becomes a permanent arrangement for many. The importance of cable connectivity, well-planned internal and external communal areas and wellness facilities are key to thriving workplace communities.

Finally, developers must ensure that buildings are not approached as standalone developments. Integrating with the fabric of a city and understanding the strategy of the local authority is crucial at planning stage, but to truly futureproof developments, understanding the local demographic, incorporating other uses, such as leisure and creating linkages with neighbours is fundamental.

Will Hean is Development Director, Scotland, Osborne+Co