How to future proof new build and refurbishment office schemes

As the office market recovers, we are seeing the return of new office developments as well as more and more refurbishments. But the million dollar question is how do you design and build office space that will appeal to occupiers, not only now but in ten, twenty or even fifty years time? In this blog we’ll identify the potential pitfalls when developing or refurbishing offices and what developers/landlords can do to deliver a successful scheme:

1. Think About The End User

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Start by asking yourself, “What kind of business is going to be attracted to my scheme?” To answer this, you’ll need to consider the scheme’s location, size and design. For example a city centre scheme in the Northern Quarter is going to attract an entirely different type of occupier to that of an “out of town” office development in South Manchester. Consider the types of occupiers attracted to the location and what those occupiers typically seek in terms of specification etc. but be careful not to go too ‘bespoke’ and create space that can’t be adaptable. Know your market and what will attract occupiers to your scheme over a competitor’s. When you’re looking at the building’s design, make sure you have the most suitable architect and project team on board. You need a team that understands what you’re trying to create and the market you are targeting. Consider their track record and experience and the “styles” they are renowned for. A good architect will achieve the right balance of style and functionality.

2. How Important Is Image?

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The image and style of the offices is important but the degree to which the external image/design of an office building matters depends on the use it is being put to. So an image conscious occupier looking for a HQ style building is going to be far more concerned with external appearance than a call centre occupier whose clients never visit the building. Both may want the building to perform to the same standard in terms of specification and functionality, and both may have similar locational criteria, but one will be more concerned with external image than the other and will be prepared to pay a higher rental for it. There is a cost implication in delivering a ‘Grade A’ specification that is suitably ‘future-proofed’. Having attractive external design in high quality/expensive finishes may add significant build cost but is not necessarily going to command a higher rent in some locations and, in order to make a scheme viable, something may have to give. What does an occupier want – a building that looks pretty but doesn’t perform or a “plain” building that does? Award winning design is a ‘nice to have’ but is not always top of occupiers’ priorities and a landlord with a fully let ‘ugly’ building is going to be more content than the landlord with the empty building and only a mantelpiece full of awards to show for it. That said, a building may not win architectural awards for appearance but still win awards in terms of innovation.

3. Build For The Future

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“BREEAM” certification is not an award as such, more a recognition and standard of the green credentials of a building, including use of sustainable materials, efficiency in running costs/energy saving and proximity to public transport. As the economy recovers and occupiers focus less on cost and more on specification and quality, accreditations such as BREEAM rating will matter more to occupiers. Metro in Salford Quays is a great example, being one of few buildings outside Manchester city centre to be awarded “BREEAM Excellent”. Do everything you can to make sure you’re building is the best that it can be.

4. Flexibility Is The Name Of The Game

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In contrast to years ago when most large professional firms opted for the traditional cellular office plan, most are now veering toward open plan working – not only to maximize cost efficiency but also to appeal to the new working culture of the younger generation . The majority of tenants want four walls, a floor and a ceiling that allow them to carry on their business and grow. What happens within varies from occupier to occupier. On 1 St Peter’s Square, for example, Argent completed to “shell and floor” and gave the occupiers a choice in terms of air conditioning specification. We are going to see much more of this on large speculative office developments.  Today’s office occupiers look to innovative and distinctive fit-outs to make the work place an attractive and inspiring environment, whilst also catering for the “downtime” needs of staff. Employers exploit many factors to attract the right calibre of employee. It is not just about the salary package. The modern office occupier also pays great attention to office fit-out design to attract, motivate and so retain good quality employees. Fundamentally, office design needs to make it as easy as possible for occupiers to fit-out and adapt the space as they see fit. Occupiers are now much more knowledgeable when it comes to design and functionality – in some cases more so than the landlord! Giving occupiers a choice in terms of “Cat A” finish is definitely the way forward on larger buildings.

5. Give Occupiers Added Value

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The impact of serviced offices cannot be ignored. Many SME’s start off in serviced offices and are often disappointed by the lack of facilities provided by landlords when they out-grow serviced and look at offices available on ‘conventional’ leases. Adapting and broadening your offering, such as providing meeting rooms and presentation/exhibition/events space available for hire, communal kitchens/café facilities, hot-desking/co-working facilities areas etc. will ensure your scheme is better placed to capitalise on this demand. We are definitely going to see more buildings with a proper ‘concierge’ service as opposed to some bored security guard on reception. This may add a little more to the running costs of the building but informed, good quality tenants will recognise the added value and will be prepared to meet the additional cost.

6. Keep An Eye On The Bottom Line bank-17816_1280

The other issue at present is the rising costs of construction as the industry struggles to increase output coming out of the recession. As a developer you must examine costs very carefully to make schemes viable.  Don’t be afraid to cut construction costs on areas that are a luxury rather than a necessity or surplus to requirements. Think carefully about certain items. Are they really necessary? Will they make the difference? Are they important and could an occupier do without them? What about you? Are you a developer or landlord about to embark on a speculative scheme? Or maybe you’re an occupier looking to relocate but are unsure of the type of scheme that will best fit your business. Whatever your thoughts, let us know on Twitter! If you need commercial property or investment advice, or would like Canning O’Neill to market your office building, then get in touch today.