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The future of the office – the office is dead, long live the office

The future of the office has been one of the main talking points of the past 12 months. In many ways this has been a much-needed conversation for a long time, one that was not caused by the events of 2020 but accelerated by them. What we have now is an opportunity for companies, property developers and landlords to reassess the purpose and business case for a huge swathe of corporate real estate.

Matthew Buecher, global real estate design leader at Salesforce, has perhaps come closest to capturing the essence of this debate when he said: “The desk is not going away, but the idea that you’re going to sit at your desk for eight hours, five days a week, for most people, that’s over.”

While the exact implications of this shift in thinking are still being worked out across the corporate sector, there are increasingly clear points of agreement on what office spaces will be for in future.

One of the key trends which is gathering increasing momentum is the idea, recently championed by the CBRE, of the ‘hotelification’ of the office. Rather than imagining the office as a ‘desk farm’, the notion of hotelification argues for offices to take a leaf from the hospitality sector’s book in how they create new office experiences – built around collaboration, flexibility and social interaction. In other words, all the things we can’t do on Zoom and miss about being in the same place as our colleagues.

There is no doubt that this has huge potential to be a positive development for most people. However, the term ‘hotelification’ is somewhat unhelpful as it obscures a bigger trend that has been in motion for the last few years. If we are to capitalise on this concept then we need to understand that bigger picture and the requirements that arise from it.

Hotelification is only half the story

If we look back over the last five years, the main flow of design and building trends has not been from the hospitality sector into the corporate environment. In fact, it has been the exact reverse.

In comparison to the enterprise, hotels and other hospitality venues have historically suffered from noticeably poor digital experiences – whether that was because of poor bandwidth and coverage, weak security and access control or other technological shortcomings. However, as the importance of wireless and other digital technology became increasingly vital to the guest experience (and how they rate venues on review sites), so ‘enterprise-grade’ technology infrastructures became increasingly attractive to the hospitality sector.

The ‘hotelification’ of offices is inextricably linked to this trend. While enterprise-grade tech flows in one direction, the five-star experience is now coming back the other way.

The key point is that – as we can see with hotels – you cannot deliver those five-star experiences without the right technology in place. As such, I think it is reasonable to predict that what is really happening here is the emergence of a new category.

A new category of spaces

Rather than thinking about workspaces and hospitality spaces in isolation – they are increasingly becoming different flavours of a broader concept of ‘collaboration spaces’. In the context of the corporate sphere, this means that offices will increasingly become ‘enterprise lobbies’. These spaces will combine the best of both worlds – with the priority given to flexibility, promoting human interaction and rapid repurposing.

And of course, none of this is possible without the right technology infrastructure. Rather than thinking about ‘enterprise-grade’ we need to start thinking about ‘flex-grade’ technology – that combines the security and reliability of enterprise technology, with the seamless five-star experience currently implemented in the hospitality sector.

There are challenges involved in making these collaboration spaces a reality – and not every tech vendor or installer is geared up to deal with them.

Truly effective collaboration spaces won’t be viable if we cannot ensure the upgradeability of infrastructures – deploying solutions that allow more smarts to be added via the cloud without the need to be constantly replacing expensive end devices – or the more practical concerns of deploying these sophisticated systems in the heritage buildings increasingly preferred by hotels and corporates alike.

LMG has been at the forefront of these trends for many years as our work on the 10 Trinity Square project demonstrates. We are actively involved in more than half a dozen projects that fit the ‘collaboration space’ model – and our converged deployment model is key to making these more flexible, experience-led buildings work.

Get in touch to talk to us about how we can manage your transition to a collaboration space model.