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What The Office Sector Needs To Learn From Hotels, Retail And — Wait, What, Airports And The Car Industry?


To be at the forefront of the office real estate sector, don’t spend too much time thinking about offices.

At Bisnow’s London State of Office event on 12 September, more than 250 delegates heard from a variety of experts who advised that to remain relevant, office owners and developers need to look to a variety of different industries.

Some seem intuitive, like hospitality or retail. But product design, airports and the auto industry? Really?

“For much of the 20th century you had the idea that space for different areas were designed differently and remained very separate, so you had retail design, aviation, office design, all very different,” HOK European Design Principal Larry Malcic said.

“Today you are blending those together, so you blend the design of hospitality and resorts with offices. For example aviation has always been about how to move people through space and provide convenience and speed, so you look to that sector and bring in those ideas. That kind of fusion, bringing them together to create a mixed kind of design is where I think offices are going to be in the next few years.”

Office owners are having to start thinking of their tenants as customers, and thus adopt the mindset of designers of products like Apple or Samsung. For those companies, user experience, or UX, is key — a bad UX equals doom for a product.

“It is the idea that we are in a market place where you are in competition, and your customer wants to have a good user experience,” Malcic said, elucidating how to go about this. “That goes back to the idea of choreographing space, creating different types of environments, particularly getting the right balance between collaborative and quiet space. You would find that variety of space in hotels or in retail.”

Where does the auto industry come in? The answer lies in the way it is a physical object which uses technology to personalise the user experience. 

Gowling WLG's Felicity Lindsay, HOK's Larry Malcic, Lendlease's Sherin Aminossehe and Savills' Hunter Booth at Bisnow's London State of Office event 2018.

“Often the built environment follows other industries, so if you look at the auto sector, many of you will have cars with key fobs where, when you put your key in, it already knows who you are, it knows the temperature that you like, what kind of music you like and adjusts the seat for you,” Malcic said.

“I think that kind of technology will be spreading very quickly into office development. Now often that comes with the fit out, but to get those sensors it needs to come in the base build.”

The example discussed was the Edge office building in Amsterdam, occupied by Deloitte and built by OVG. The developer claims it is the most sustainable and technologically advanced office building in the world, fitted with thousands of sensors which allow users to interact with the building through their smartphones.

The way that technology can enhance the experience of a building isn’t just about controlling the physical environment; it can also be used to create the kind of community and loyalty that is more common in the hotel and retail world, delegates heard.

“What property managers have done is realise they’ve got the chance to create a real experience for tenants,” Savills co-CEO of West End Office Agency Hunter Booth said. “That inspiration comes partly from the retail world, partly from the hospitality world, and blurring all of those into your workday.

“You as a CEO are probably not sat in your glass box any more, and you know if your staff are engaged. That work-life dichotomy doesn’t exist anymore. Millennials don't think about the workday as 9-5 any more, a survey reported by the BBC showed just 6% of people work 9-5 these days. It’s a thing of the past, so employers are looking at technology that engages their staff.”

Examples provided were Savvy and Equiem, both technology platforms which look to create communities among office users.

But with the increased use of technology, there is an attendant need to create an environment more anchored in the physical world as well.

“We call it high-tech high touch,” Malcic said. “Generation Z has grown up using screens. The more that technology is embedded the more you need an environment that is high touch and tactile, as technology can be sterile, and this ties in to the idea of wellness. The more that you can create a tactile environment made of natural, authentic materials, the more that it provides a variety of spaces that you would find in hotels or retail, that is all part of creating a richer environment.”