PropertyEU event: The knowledge era heralds the future for offices

The role of the office has changed in a meaningful way, but technology and a new sense of purpose will help the asset class move towards a brighter future, concluded participants of PropertyEU’s ‘Future of the Office’ roundtable. 

The closed-door webinar saw input from a range of experts in the field of European office investment, development and service provision, tackling the structural changes facing one of real estate’s anchor asset classes.

Few could have imagined that the role of the office in business could ever have come under such scrutiny before the pandemic rocked many daily patterns. Yet enforced working from home (WFH), social distancing, a new appreciation for health, cleanliness and space have all altered how traditional workspaces are seen and used.

The panel included investment and development experts Ross Blair, senior managing director UK, Hines; Tomas Jurdak, head of real estate, MiddleCap; and Arkadiusz Rudzki, executive vice president leasing & sales, Skanska.

Also in the debate were office innovation experts Michael Cockburn, founder of digital office platform Desana; and Jonas Kjellberg, chairman of the board of Nornorm, a workplace service provider owned by Ikea.

Amenities race
In terms of the right mix, the panel said it was clear that a race was emerging to add ever more impressive amenities and services in order to attract occupiers and in turn workers.

Said Rudzki: ‘Right now, the most important amenity for an office building is a flexible component. This needs to be built into offices from the very beginning, and should be taken seriously by developers.

Jurdak agreed. ‘As a smaller developer, we are also seeing a need for flexible elements in each building. We will partner with some of the operators and try to offer this across all our offices.’

Noted Blair: ’When you are developing a building, amenities are a big marketing draw. Before, developers focused on the minimum they could supply within the building – from gyms to cafes. That is changing. While what is in the building still matters, how the building connects with the surrounding area is increasingly important.'

The future is digital
For Cockburn, tech remains central to the office's evolution. ‘We believe we are building the interface between people and buildings and facilitating a new blend of solutions, that needs to be centralised by the employers. You can’t give freedom but you can give autonomy.

‘That’s the beautiful thing about tech, it moves faster than the built environment, and is great for exponentially increasing efficiency.’

Kjellberg of flexible furniture provider Nornorm said he saw the asset class at a key turning point: ‘We are at the end of an industrial era when we moved people into offices, paid them for their time and kept them there. We have enabled ourselves to work from everywhere, work value creation is going to be more important than hourly work. In terms of overall demand – we are leaving the old era and beginning a knowledge era.’