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Living employment
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Living employment

Living employment

‘Living employment’ is a term we’ve coined at Make to refer to the growing push for workplaces that support a more holistic view of employees’ needs and welfare. People’s work and personal lives are increasingly intertwined, and businesses that take steps to support their employees in this can foster a more fulfilled workforce – and, in turn, enjoy greater productivity and improved attraction and retention of talent. 

We’ve been exploring how to design buildings that support this ethos and help our commercial clients build healthier, happier workplaces. The aim is to create attractive, dynamic environments that offer value through their desirability for both workers and the local community at large. 

As part of this, we’ve been collaborating with City Office Real Estate (CO–RE) to explore the demand for and value of these ideas. We’re exploring the following questions with a range of employers and commercial building occupiers: 

– How can we respond to a changing economic environment where business employment strategies are constantly being reinvented? 

– What are the longer-term trends in people’s relationship with their workplace and employers’ attitude towards employees? 

– How will growing populations, changing climates, expanding cities and evolving communication technology affect people’s attitudes towards their personal lives and the workplace? 

– How can we design buildings and places that promote happiness among the people who use them? 

From our conversations, it has become clear that incorporating ‘non-workspace’ in or alongside commercial buildings is essential to improving people’s daily lives at work. By complementing workspace with areas for relaxation and study, as well as amenities like crèches, food and drink offers, shops, entertainment, learning centres, even laundries and banks, we can support both employers and employees with their responsibilities outside of the office, thereby helping renew their focus during working hours. 

We’re striving to apply living employment principles in a way that transforms workplaces into destinations – bustling hubs of employment that offer valuable benefits beyond the fabric of the office space.

One way this could be achieved is prioritising the spaces between the leased office spaces, like lobbies, communal floors, roof terraces and the ground floor. It’s worth considering the public areas right out to the street and the urban townscape too, along with the existing amenities nearby. The offer just outside a building is often the deciding factor for a business when determining where best to locate itself. 

With office buildings opening themselves up this way, there’s scope for them to become far more ‘public’ buildings, welcoming non-employees to use some of their facilities and promoting corporate transparency. This openness and free flow of people are key to creating low-maintenance, dynamic, flexible centres for commerce. 

Many big technology businesses already embrace this model. Because they operate as communities of specialists, depending on the support of smaller businesses and outsourced developers, the need for close relationships, shared knowledge, support and common resources has led tech giants like Google to rethink their workplaces as community hubs that promote exchange and employee-centric welfare. On a smaller scale, co-working spaces offer the potential for start-up businesses to share resources within the same building, capitalising on the opportunity to interact with and learn from each other. 

Taken to its logical extreme, a living employment hub that mixes workspace with amenities could evolve into a fully mixed use development that also provides places to live. The workplace would no longer be the sole driver of value in this scenario; a broader view of service, quality, convenience and amenity would be taken into account. 

We should consider longer-term opportunities for creating dynamic workplaces where businesses and their employees can thrive.

Part of the solution is changing attitudes towards planning use classes. Shopping, domestic services, catering, entertainment and professional services can no longer be neatly and distinctly defined as separate entities. Likewise, new models for living increasingly blur the boundaries between home ownership, renting and hotels. We need to design buildings to be less tied to specific uses and better able to adapt to different types of commercial activity, thereby supporting employment in all forms. 

Consider the possibility of the primary elements of a building’s structure and facade being designed to be equally useful for commercial, trade, residential and hotel uses. This would require a ‘loose-fit’ approach – for example, generous ceiling heights that allow residential and office uses to operate on a normalised structural format. In any case, we’d need to avoid short-term savings that meet minimum standards but rule out future flexibility. While there is a capital cost involved to designing buildings as long-term assets, a longer lifespan will give the final product greater value in the end. 

In our socially dynamic and technologically enabled society, the nature of property and ownership is fundamentally changing. People must be kept at the heart of design, particularly workplace design. It’s crucial for workers and businesses alike that new office buildings consider their service provision and not just their space provision.

Article extracted from Make Annual 15.