Creating better workplaces where workforces can thrive
Thousands of government representatives, investors, funders, developers, housebuilders and construction leaders recently attended this year’s UK Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF). Among the attendees was Anna Jakobsen, EMEA Leader for Sustainability, Resilience, ESG and Transactions at GHD, who was also one of the guest speakers at a roundtable titled “Creating Better Places and Environments for Work”, which brought together representatives from the public and private sector.
During the roundtable, Anna explored the concept of creating working environments that are co-created and co-designed with the employee experience at their core. In turn, these employee-centric workspaces can also ‘thrive’ because they are constantly used and valued by workforces.
The ripple effect of the shift from office-to-home working during the pandemic is still being felt, with some employers finding it a challenge to encourage their staff to return to the office and expressing concerns over loss of colleague connectivity, as well as limitations to development opportunities for junior staff. During Anna’s discussion, transport was highlighted as a significant barrier to encouraging people back into the workplace, with post-COVID legacy services and networks being considered unsustainable and unaffordable in many cases amidst a cost-of-living crisis.
It was acknowledged that 15-minute cities are effective, but they must be more inclusive and provide accessible transport links to the centres for existing employees and job seekers. It was also noted that in outer London, employees’ slow return to the office is threatening the viability of the High Street, impacting general footfall and everyday sales in the process.
The importance of relevance
Meanwhile, universities were recognised as pivotal in revitalising city centres, with Newcastle and Bristol referenced as examples. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that private-sector capital can unlock significant opportunities when working in partnership with local authorities, for instance, Yoo Capital’s projects at Olympia and Camden. While future developments may not necessarily involve new models, the relevance of this new investment during times of change is particularly important.
Relevance is also central to enabling employers to develop their working environments and make them more appealing than home setups. Organisations must highlight the value of working in the office to their staff. This can easily be achieved by asking employees at all levels to get involved in the planning and design phases and in making decisions relating to layout and functionality.
A new way of thinking
Many businesses now view their office spaces as hubs used to socialise, collaborate and brainstorm with others, rather than simply producing focused work. Employers also ask themselves questions, including ‘What are our employees’ needs?’ ‘How are we responding to them?’ and ‘How can we maximise our space in response to their needs?’
As we all know, the pandemic triggered change on an unprecedented scale. It has also introduced new outlooks and widespread opportunities for employers to connect with their employees and develop working environments that enable them to thrive and succeed.