Flexibility, integration and and a continued change in workplace attitudes will all be key factors in shaping the 2018 office sector, says the BCO’s Bill Page

I’m privileged, through my role as chairman of the British Council for Offices’ Research Committee, to be close to the issues impacting those who occupy, design, build, own or manage offices. I believe there are three key trends which will emerge in the year ahead.

The need for flexibility

The way we work is rapidly changing. The move towards an increasingly knowledge-led economy, for example, necessitates more creative and collaborative styles of working. Our office spaces need to be able to adapt accordingly, and adapt quickly.

Yet efforts to adapt the workplace to new ways of working are still often only made after office moves. 2017 has left the property market nervous suggesting there will be reticence to move and incentives to stay put. Workplace change may become less frequent at a time it should be accelerating.  

We’ll turn our attention to how to integrate these disparate technologies across the workplace

Fundamental changes to a workplace cannot be limited to a 5 or 10 year relocation cycle. In 2018, we must be more flexible and repurpose our space to suit the activities of workers. The best way to enable this is to rethink how such change is financed. The costs to a company’s productivity of making the wrong decisions in configuration and workplace are enormous and provable. The benefits of getting it right, in terms of productivity, recruitment and retention outweigh capital outlay. Once companies, through proper dialogue between their real estate, HR and finance teams, can square this circle we can all look forward to more progressive, pleasant and productive working environments.

A growing health and wellness agenda

We’ve long known that the workplace can impact employee health and wellness. But recently, thanks in part to more sophisticated measurement techniques, we’re beginning to understand quite how significant the role of the workplace can be in making a positive impact.

The year ahead should deliver a more nuanced understanding of health and wellness in the workplace. Research shows that even simple changes to lighting and temperature control can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing: leading once again to employee productivity, and subsequently, businesses’ bottom line.

As the work/life divide blurs even further, and we question the effect this is having on both our happiness and productivity levels, businesses will have more of an impetus than ever to make sure the workplace is optimised for healthy and well working. By the end of 2018 I expect to see some meaningful data proving the benefits of health and wellbeing in offices on staff retention – and on the choices occupiers make in selecting buildings.

Integration of technologies in the workplace

In 2018 and beyond we’ll focus less on individual technological evolutions, such as improved connectivity enabling remote working, or wearables. Instead, we’ll turn our attention to how to integrate these disparate technologies across the workplace.

Take booking a room for a meeting for example. In a truly digitally integrated office, instead of co-ordinating with colleagues, navigating a standalone system and requiring help from a receptionist, a single system will be able to cross-reference diaries automatically and book rooms according to availability and requirements, adjusting for last minute changes and controlling building access as they materialise via smart phones.

This integration will not only make our offices more efficient and effective, but will help create a positive experience for all building users. This once again links back to productivity, but also alludes to a widening performance gap between progressive offices and everything else.