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How To Take Advantage Of Hot Office Trends If You’re Not A Big-Shot Developer With A Fancy New Scheme

With a question from the floor, Dan Silverman of U.K. and European Investments absolutely nailed it.

To paraphrase: It is easy for large office owners and developers to embrace the most cutting-edge trends when it comes to technology, data, design and wellness.

But how do you do that if, like a vast swathe of the commercial property world, you are a small or midsize landlord, with older, unfashionable assets, catering to tenants who want 5K SF or less?

How To Take Advantage Of Hot Office Trends If You’re Not A Big-Shot Developer With A Fancy New Scheme
The Centric Lab's Araceli Camargo; Landsec's Carissa Kilgour; Unilver's Nikki Kirbell; HLW International's Michele Neptune; Cluttons' Freddie Pritchard-Smith; International WELL Building Institute's Ann Marie Aguilar

Fear not. Though Bisnow’s Future of the Workplace event was held in Landsec’s fancy new Nova North, part of its wider £2.2B Victoria redevelopment programme, the panelists had some very practical advice for how to incorporate wellness into buildings — something tenants of all shapes and sizes are increasingly demanding. A lot of this goes beyond the physical infrastructure of the building.

“You don’t need a big café to create a sense of community,” Landsec Workplace Director Carissa Kilgour said. “So when you’re constrained with an older building that is more difficult to refurbish or is smaller so can’t have big common areas, you have to think about the less tangible things to deliver holistic wellness.”

Examples include competitions that pit different tenants in the same building against each other over who takes the most steps in a day — something that gets tenants interacting and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

“The reality is that there are small things you can do,” Cluttons Head of Commercial Agency Freddie Pritchard-Smith said. “If you look at the WELL Building Certificate there is a list of things you can do, so within your 5K SF, can you put more water filters in, can you be more sensitive about the fixtures and fittings? If you can’t have yoga classes in your building, can you work with employers to offers discounts for somewhere nearby? It’s about not having the paranoia about not being able to deliver everything and dismissing it out of hand because you can’t do it all, but spending money in the right way.”

Yoga studio public domain image

A big area of conversation was biophilic design — incorporating as much nature as possible into the workplace. Again, this is easier with larger properties with big outside areas, but thinking about using natural materials and allowing space for plants can see a little go a long way.

How to incorporate elements like wellness into buildings is a genuine worry for smaller owners and developers. Co-working companies accounted for around 15% of office take up in Central London last year, and Cluttons pointed out in a recent research report that much of this is driven by firms that would traditionally have taken offices of up to 5K SF, but can find service and flexibility in the co-working or serviced office sector.

“If you have a property and you are not about to demolish two floors to create a dramatic stairway to encourage physical movement, you can take the existing stairwell and bump up the class of finishes, provide better lighting and signage to encourage people to use it,” HLW International Director of Sustainability Michele Neptune said. 

She said a lot of what could be done involved talking to tenants about how their working practices could help.

“What we have found is it is a new conversation with companies because there is so much of it that is on their plate, like providing areas that are optimised if people are working late.”