By David Gardner, Vice President Clipsal and Schneider Electric Partner Business
Offices and workspaces are vital right across the globe – according to ABS, in June 2015 alone, Australians spent almost 1,637 million hours at work – many of which were spent in an office environment. However, with business structures rapidly transforming with the advent of technology and flexible working arrangements, the way offices operate and the way people work is changing.
This trend has now become a key consideration for architects, consultants and contractors planning both new and existing building fit‐outs projects for buildings across the country.
Building owners and facility managers invest a lot of money to ensure offices are functional from a power, heating, lighting and ventilation perspective. However, the comfort and happiness of the people working inside of them is sometimes overlooked – and it is these factors that are becoming important in order to increase building occupancy rates and rental yields.
Great working environments are imperative to ensure a happy and productive workforce. According to the Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace research survey, commissioned by CBRE, 85 per cent of respondents claimed that general employee wellness is a critical issue to ensure success for workplaces moving forward. To adapt to this, Australia has seen a growth in the workplace flexibility trend – whether this is working hours, types of work available or even the physical space employees work in – which is the biggest challenge for building owners and facility managers. The focus on the physical office has increased the pressure to ensure that workspaces for tenants effectively facilitate their changing flexible work practices, but most importantly not at the expense of building owners and facility managers.
With many of Australia’s future workspaces already built, it is important to future proof them now through smart retrofitting to ensure building owners and facility managers can accommodate the changing nature of the workforce. According to a recent IBISWorld Commercial and Industrial Building Report, in Australia, commercial and industrial building construction industry revenue is predicted to increase by 3.3% over five years, reaching $36 billion. Investments into office developments is seen as a large driver for this growth.
Machines including telephones and printers, as well as furniture that make up the office environment have evolved over time to align with trends and new technologies. However, the physical office space itself hasn’t changed much. Professional workspaces are still key, but many are simply functional in purpose in order to get work done. This means offices often end up operating with rigid designs, which are only suitable for a limited period of time.
In a world where change is inevitable, whether through business or economic impacts, the number of employees in an office at any one time fluctuates and re‐arrangements are required. To accommodate this change, it isn’t uncommon for tenants to move to more suitable office spaces, appropriate for their needs – leaving behind the problem of an inflexible workspace. This increases the pressure on a facility manager or building owner to invest in a building and refurbish or physically change a space to make it suitable for the next tenants. This is not only costly; it is unlikely to address the problem of a static workspace.
Now more than ever, there is a real need to think beyond just functional workspaces, but consider how an office can become agile and adaptable to any future workplace trends. Building owners and facility managers need to re‐think and innovate in order to break the mould and shift away from the traditional static office structure and compete with emerging workplace competitors. This trend isn’t uncommon for large global organisations such as Microsoft, Unilever and KPMG, who are already implementing measures towards a flexible and agile office.
In order to keep occupancy rates high, facility managers, as well as architects, consultants and contractors need to consider the workspace as a truly fluid environment. Somewhere that is dynamic, flexible and easily adjusted to changes – not only in terms of organisation size, and employees desires to work differently, but most importantly to ensure building owners and facility managers aren’t at risk of high refurbishment costs if tenants change requirements or new tenants move in. Technology providers like Schneider Electric, through their knowledge and expertise, understand that commercial building managers need to rethink how they approach the layout of offices as a first step. Access to power and data is the lifeline to ensuring a well‐run office and making sure these are connected effectively is important. However, ensuring they can be easily adapted to a changing environment is the key to long‐term success.
Schneider Electric’s OptiLine 50 is a versatile installation system that can be implemented quickly and with precision into any workspace floor plan. With 25% fewer parts and a 50% quicker installation time compared to traditional office installations due to the simple click‐in or click‐out units, facility managers, consultants and contractors can save time and money with every refurbishment, and every time a new occupant needs to be accommodated – making a fluid workplace possible.
If employees are working day‐to‐day in an environment that allows greater flexibility to suit their working patterns, it increases employee satisfaction and productivity. Additionally, it means building owners and facility managers are at less risk of having to invest further in creating applicable offices for future tenants, ultimately, meaning a return on investment and reduced risk down the line.
The changing work environment isn’t going to disappear, it will only increase exponentially. The sooner building owners and facility managers look to consider a new way of thinking and adopt solutions to drive a more agile workplace, the sooner they can appreciate the benefits.