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The tech generation is creating a shift in workplace design

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Start-ups are changing how developers approach offices, says Matt Yeoman

TMT (technology, media and telecoms) is dead and buried. The change in office design is no longer being driven by a sector, it is being driven by an entire generation. It is, however, a divided generation.

In one corner of the coffee shop you have the start-ups, those that dream of success, fame and the fortune of angel investors.  They are the daytime occupiers of hotel lobbies and private members’ clubs.  They don’t need much space, just somewhere to sit, to meet and to socialise.

In the other corner, you have the young ‘mouses for hire’ that have made it. They are now CEOs, executive directors, masters of their universe.  They have left their laptops in the coffee shop and are now banging on the door of corporate real estate, desperately trying to find a home for their ever-increasing staff numbers.

These are the haves and have-nots of the tech generation. And each is creating a fundamental shift in workplace design.

While many will have you believe that the future is cloud-based, bearded and mobile, the truth is rather different. It seems that Generation Z still desires to build successful companies that employ others and still wants somewhere permanent to house them.

But these people still want to appear cool.  To them, the office is seen in much the same way as the tie – epitomising the traditional, the boring. As architects, we need to understand that, arguably more than ever, the speculative office building is a product in a design-conscious consumer-driven world.

Through Buckley Gray Yeoman’s new-build work for the likes of Great Portland Estates, the Truman Brewery, Stanhope and Derwent London, we are exploring the notion of character, authenticity and robustness within new-build office design.  The haves want a building that has maximum flexibility. Interestingly, they do not want a building that has a bigger stature than them.  They do not want iconic.

However, once they do see what they like, they will pay top dollar. Increasingly, we are seeing office rent levels exceed all expectations and reaffirm the mantra that ‘design sells’.

The have-nots desire the same flexible, über-cool workplace, but have not yet built an organisation large enough to create this for themselves.  They need a new way of working.

Generation Z sees the office the same way as the tie - epitomising the traditional, the boring

Enter the super-cool serviced office provider, in the guise of   The Office Group, Second Home, We-Work and others.  Taking their vision from the private members’ club, these new kids on the block are leasing huge tranches of Grade A office space from the traditional developers, rebranding it and reselling, desk by desk, to the low-covenant ‘have-nots’.  This is a win-win.  The traditional developer gets a strong (and long) head lease, while the start-up gets a ready-made trendy office with all the add-ons.

Through our work for The Office Group we have recently completed the largest ever co-worker space in London at Henry Wood House. What is most remarkable about this project is not that it is 6,500m2 over eight floors, but that it is located in the heart of the  West End in Regent Street, rather than the ‘tech-belt’ of east London.

But, what of the future? Well, as the corporate developers and pension funds get to grips with this new world, huge opportunities are arising to bring the split generation of office occupiers together – opportunities such as Bishopsgate Goodsyard, where we are designing more than 70,000m2 of new build offices, for both the co-workers and the cool corporates. Working with Hammerson and Ballymore we aim to design a new piece of the working city, specifically designed to accommodate all types of occupier.

The aim is to create a place where affordable workspace sits right next to multi-billion pound enterprises, where the haves and have-nots sip coffee together – not unlike the way it started and not unlike London itself.

Matt Yeoman is a founding director of Buckley Gray Yeoman

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