With new technologies, new approaches to maximising office efficiency and increasing political uncertainty, Richard Kauntze of the BCO says 2016 could be the year everything changes in commercial property

Richard Kauntze

This year undoubtedly has potential to be a year of major change. With less than two months until the UK makes a final decision on its future in Europe, continued rumblings of economic uncertainty and a lack of political stability across the continent continue to grab headlines around the world. But what does this mean for the commercial property industry?

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and changes in the wider world will continue to shape the way we work and therefore the way we design our offices. While our industry has continued to grow despite this period of social and economic unrest, we need to ensure we are anticipating and reacting to the changes around us.

Whether three or four people setting up a new enterprise in Manchester as the northern powerhouse gains momentum, or a global business of 500 people in London, we need to be conscious that the changing aspirations and demands of our customers will continue to challenge both the model and timelines that our industry is comfortable working to.

Furthermore, while technology is now an established driver of change in the workplace, we need to continue to be nimble and remember that this is a change that comes at pace. In 2016, more than ever, technology is continuing to require us to reassess how we work and to re-think the workplaces we create and the way we expect people to use them.

It is in this context that the British Council for Offices heads to Amsterdam for its Annual Conference on 11 May. As we advance beyond the mid-point of another decade, it’s important that we consider how social and economic unrest, together which changing workforce demands, could and should shape our approach to the way we build and the spaces we create.

While our industry has continued to grow despite this period of social and economic unrest, we need to ensure we are anticipating and reacting to the changes around us

After years of consensus and stability, we’ll consider whether we are on the eve of widespread anarchy in the EU and debate the potential consequences this will have on the commercial property industry. While the great post-war European project has undoubtedly produced many positives, including economic prosperity, free trade and movement, we’ll question whether the challenges the union now faces are stretching some of its institutions to near breaking point.

We’ll also delve into whether, as an industry, we are continuing to provide workplaces which are fit for purpose given the ever changing demands of the modern workforce. While the open-plan office is now the staple set-up for the majority of offices around the UK, we’ll question whether continuing to design and deliver open plan spaces is actually supporting or destroying workforce output and productivity.

While there are endless studies into the improved cost efficiencies that can be achieved from buildings where costs have been driven down by using less space, is this the best approach for achieving a productive and collaborative workplace?

With little respected data on how good office design and architecture results in higher productivity, do we need to place more emphasis on understanding how to get the most from our occupiers biggest asset – their people – and design our buildings accordingly?

This theme will continue as we look to the future and debate whether embracing “anarchy” is the only way forward for our industry. Led by Ken Shuttleworth, the conference will explore the notion that we cannot continue to design buildings as we have been for the last few decades. Instead, we’ll suggest that following an anarchic approach provides an exciting way forward. A crucial facet of this discussion will be the suggestion that wellness is included in any discussions around the design of the workplace.

As we look to debate and discover this alternative, controversial and occasionally confrontational thinking, what better setting than one of Europe’s greatest small cities – Amsterdam.

Famed for its canals, narrow houses, bicycles and open culture, the city is also home to some of the most refreshing thinking and ground-breaking office development in the world. The city is also home to a rapidly developing business district, Zuidas, which is home to The Edge, one of the world’s top-scoring BREEAM-rated office buildings. It provides great examples of how office buildings can adapt to appeal to changing audiences and technological advances. The city offers the perfect location for us to challenge conventional thinking and consider re-setting our approach.

Ultimately, any change, in any industry, will always be disruptive. It goes without saying that this disruption can, for many, be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, embracing positive disruption is what is essential for our industry right now. If we can embrace disruption we will undoubtedly be more productive, creative and dynamic. In doing so, we’ll surely serve the needs of the workforce, and therefore our customers, better.

Richard Kauntze is chief executive of the British Council for Offices

The 2016 BCO Annual Conference will take place in Amsterdam on 11-13 May. For more information and to book a place go to www.bco.org.uk