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BCO 2018: How can office designers balance the needs of a diverse workforce?

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To coincide with the start of the BCO conference, the AJ is asking top designers, engineers and agents a series of questions surrounding the future of office development in the UK

This year, the conference is heading to Berlin – a city where according to Kostic Samen the ‘future arrived early’ – for its annual three-day conference which, themed on the topic of diversity and inclusion.

A key topic of discussion is likely to be on how the office development industry can meet the challenge of creating what Kostic Samen describes as ‘places that embrace and engage difference in gender, age, and culture’. 

As the conference launches (23 May), the AJ asked our panel how office designers can successfully balance the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.


A diverse workforce includes people of different ages, abilities, genders, and backgrounds – how can architects balance such a wide range of needs in tomorrow’s office?

Sherin Aminossehe, head of offices, Lendlease
As developers and designers we shouldn’t be arrogant enough to suggest that the physical design of the office is enough on its own to encourage diversity. Putting a slide between floors, bringing in distressed mismatched furniture or a barista that makes workers artisan coffee is just a band-aid approach that won’t turn the dial. However, we shouldn’t forget also that buildings do influence, and can be, enablers of change.

Andrew Barnes, head of tenant representation, JLL
Understanding and anticipating the requirements of the workforce is essential. Facilities such as gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms, gyms, yoga studios and contemplation areas, multi-faith rooms, spaces for nursing mothers and even dog creches could soon all be essential components of a large occupiers’ requirements.

Roma Agrawal, associate director at AECOM
Our workplaces are more multi-generational, with baby boomers, Generation X and millennials in the workforce together for the first time. This impacts the designs that architects produce, it is about ensuring that there is enough variety of spaces to meet their different needs.

Ken Shuttleworth, Ken Shuttleworth, director, Make  
Offices designed for owner-occupiers often incorporate an inclusive range of amenities to accommodate their diverse workforce, from prayer rooms to cafes to childcare, but this can be harder to justify for speculative spaces. The burden here cannot rest on architects alone. While I imagine it will become more commonplace – in the same way that creating offices with a variety of different spaces for working to encourage communication and collaboration has – the onus to invest in future occupants’ diverse needs has to be on the developer too.

John McRae, director, Orms
Good office design should provide a flexible, diverse and adaptable infrastructure. Initiatives such as superloos (where the toilet and basin are in the same cubicle) that can be assigned to reflect a diverse workforce, level access to shared spaces, different types of acoustically treated spaces and lighting that can be zoned and controlled by each user can be incorporated into designs at an early stage.

Helen Berresford, partner, Sheppard Robson
Diversity within the workforce is a very important element to embrace when it comes to productivity and fostering a sense of community in an organisation. However, designing spaces for people of different ages, abilities, genders and backgrounds can be challenging. Tomorrow’s office is varied, less constrained and it needs to provide a variety of spaces for it to become more inclusive. 

Hazel Rounding, director, shedkm 
Architects need to constantly react to a changing society by creating more diverse workspaces, meeting forums and facilities using imagination to move away from the generic formula. It will always be the communal areas that either bring people together of create segregation so consideration to degrees of privacy need to be addressed. 

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