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Architects can drive positive change in the new flexible office boom

Emily Booth
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Flexible office spaces need to keep innovating to stand apart in an increasingly crowded and demanding market, says Emily Booth

Copenhagen is one of the happiest and most liveable cities in the world. The British Council for Offices is having its upcoming conference there (for which the AJ is media partner), so, hopefully, there will be lots of inspiration for workplace designers. Amid the UK’s current political turmoil, with general anger-levels ramped up to the max, we could all do with a bit more wellbeing in the workplace.

Good design can and should support happiness at work. As digital working increasingly shapes, facilitates and intrudes on our lives, where does work stop? If you work from home, it can feel as if you never leave work. If you work in a cramped, stuffy factory, you might start feeling like a robot. Having a pleasant place to ‘go’ to work increases productivity, happiness and communication between colleagues – and goes some way to ringfencing the demands of the always-on culture. But how to achieve it?

Having a pleasant place to go to work increases productivity, happiness and communication 

Enter the likes of WeWork, the co-working behemoth that has been at the forefront of flexible workspaces. Co-working is a loosely defined term which includes flexible working space and can summon up images of hotdesking freelancers and a pool table in the corner. But it is growing up; it is not a fad any more. WeWork has always leased space – but for the first time it will be buying it; purchasing its own properties through its multi-billion property fund. While WeWork may have its own in-house architects, it has helped drive a significant move towards co-working and changed the way developers see the potential of office space. Big players such as British Land are getting in on the act and a plethora of co-working brands (HubHub or Myo, anyone?) are backed by traditional developers with deep pockets.

There is an opportunity for architects here. The pace of change is fast, and WeWork’s tenants now include heavyweight employers such as HSBC, Deloitte and Facebook. Flexible office spaces need to keep innovating to stand apart in an increasingly crowded and demanding market. Office designs might have to be refreshed more often – and architects will need to anticipate and design for different uses.

Perhaps, too, in an age where workers are required to be ever more flexible – trading job security and decent pensions for working perks such as hot yoga classes and ‘cultural calendars’ – architects can drive the most positive co-working change. What about ultra-local co-working, to cut out energy-guzzling commutes? Putting people at the heart of how and where they work – now there’s an idea.

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