The Workplace of 2024

Jan 4, 2024

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the fast-paced, ever-changing landscape of office dynamics, you’re not alone. Heavyweights such as the Bank of England, NatWest, and BT are redefining their physical presence to adapt to the hybrid working era. This includes the sale of iconic building sales and consolidation of office space, indicating a strategic shift towards greater flexibility and digital resilience.

Despite the uncertainty of the global outlook, one thing remains constant: the undeniable need for human connection and collaboration. In this article, we delve into the key workplace trends of 2024, exploring the relationship between physical spaces, efficiency, hybrid working, and how these align with human goals of purpose, fulfillment, equality, and skills development. Our aim is to inspire you to create an innovative, people-centric workplace.

A mixed message, reports of rationalising / right-sizing.

Plenty of evidence of multi-nationals consolidating their estate as they move permanently to a hybrid working pattern:

“Bank of England to sell off eight of its 17 buildings in London” (September 20, 2023) – The Bank of England is planning to sell off eight of its 17 buildings in London, as it moves to a more hybrid working model. The central bank says that the sale will save it £10 million a year, and will allow it to invest in its digital infrastructure.

“NatWest consolidates offices in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow” (November 15, 2023) – NatWest is consolidating its office space in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as it reduces its physical footprint. The bank will close 13 branches and relocate staff to other offices. The move is expected to save the bank £170 million a year.

“BT to move out of Canary Wharf office and into smaller space” (November 17, 2023) – BT is to move out of its Canary Wharf office and into a smaller space in central London. The telecoms giant says that the move will save it £100 million a year, and will allow it to create a more collaborative and flexible working environment.

“Unilever to reduce office space by 20% by end of 2023” (August 23, 2023) – Unilever is to reduce its office space by 20% by the end of 2023, as it moves to a more hybrid working model. The consumer goods giant says that the move will save it £100 million a year, and will allow it to invest in its sustainability initiatives.

“Shell to reduce office space by 40% by 2025” (October 12, 2023) – Shell is to reduce its office space by 40% by 2025, as it moves to a more hybrid working model. The energy giant says that the move will save it £300 million a year, and will allow it to invest in its renewable energy projects.

“PwC to close 10 offices in the UK and reduce its office space by 30%” (November 12, 2023) – PwC is to close 10 offices in the UK and reduce its office space by 30%, as it moves to a more hybrid working model. The accountancy firm says that the move will save it £200 million a year, and will allow it to invest in its digital transformation initiatives.

But then there are cranes on the horizon…
London office project starts roar back | Construction Enquirer News
5.1 million sq ft of new build projects have recently started – a record for London.

Could this be an exceptional spike due to pent up demand following the Covid period? Or perhaps new build activity ahead of pending planning changes on a possible ban on the demolition of existing buildings (or at least a stinging ‘demolition tax’).

However, despite a rather gloomy global aspect, one thing is very clear; we need human contact and peer-to-peer feedback and support more than ever. It sounds a bit of a paradox when you consider how habituated most of us have become to WFH (and we don’t see that changing anytime soon), but with talk of redundancies, and discussions about how AI will replace the need for human input in some tasks, 2024 could be a pivotal year.

These are the key trends we see shaping the next 12 months:

While we’ve categorised the following key trends into sections for clarity, they are all interconnected, and should be seen as one comprehensive narrative with multiple sub-texts.

1. The workplace is more than just a workspace

The key place to watch in 2024 is the workplace. Winning organisations will understand the power of their team – how to tap into their needs, aspirations, sense of purpose and tribal instinct (who doesn’t like to be in a winning team?).

Where do you see the evidence of all those visceral, raw components of ‘Maslows Hiearchy of Needs’? In a physical space.

And so, despite all the blue-sky predictions of the office heading for extinction, it continues to serve a fundamental purpose. Not only does it fulfil basic needs, it also drives efficiency, innovation, creativity and structure in a way that nothing else does.

For support with planning your workspace needs, talk to our office space specialists at Rhino

2. Less is more… more is more

And so, continuing the narrative of the previous point… the office went through a process in which ‘efficiency’ was measured by reducing the area per person to the smallest possible size.  You can probably picture the office I mean; main walkways significantly narrowed, getting to your desk involving an awkward squeeze past your colleagues. The tiny galley kitchen feeling more like going through a pasta maker – with the entire space enclosed by a too-bright LED lighting panel ceiling above with an unpleasant too-blue carpet below.

Stop!

Winning teams don’t work like that.  Respect them as individuals, or watch the skills you pay them for turn up at your competition.

Understand why your people come to the workplace. They come for the experience.  They generally have excellent focus space at home, so they are making the effort to travel to the office for human interactions; scheduled meetings, cross-departmental conversations and chance meetings. Make sure you create spaces where these can take place, either formally (with different types of meeting rooms and spaces) or informally with break-out spaces or coffee-stops.

And include the things that celebrate who you are as winners – your team’s achievements and identity. These will vary from team to team, or even within departments of the same organisation, By doing so, you can make your team’s effort to come into the office worthwhile – because it is still easier not to.

3. Hybrid working will be baked-in this year

If you check back for a moment to the high-level notes at the start of this article, it’s clear that the organisations with very large estates of offices to manage have done their sums on rental/services/energy/water and fixed their position on hybrid. What’s interesting is that they are some of the most regulated and security conscious industries in the world; if there was a compelling reason to keep all staff within a more secure cyber security ring of a physical office it would be them. Interestingly not everyone sees things the same way – a clutch of banks HSBC, Barclays and Deutsche Bank to name a few, have just reacted in the opposite way; ordering all staff back to the office 5 days a week.

So if you haven’t already, embrace it. Support your team in working out what is best for them – do they have a good working set up at home, or do they prefer to head out to a local co-working centre (it may be a healthier option). Get it right for them, make sure they feel the love which, practically, will cost very little (and which you can reclaim the VAT on anyway), and you will find it pays handsomely in goodwill. A well-designed People+Place Study may prove invaluable at this point to gather insight into the feeling and general sentiment of the staff in their attitudes towards working patterns and the different work settings.

There is merit in clearly structuring your hybrid patterns so you don’t inadvertently promote bad habits or isolate a particular team. Tell the team what you expect to happen where and when. Focus work and solo video-conference meeting are better out of the office. But if you want to plug into people then come along in – chat, good vibes, food and drinks, meetings in meeting rooms, meetings in sofas, hanging out, bumping into staff you haven’t seen in a while, general distraction, after-work drinks, the list goes on!

4. Purpose, Fulfilment, EDI, Training & Skills

An overarching trend across all points is personalisation. The mass-produced cubicle farm office landscape of the not-so-recent past is dead, and what has replaced it is a more tailored provision for the individual. The reason for this shift is that we are more aware than ever of individual needs, rights and choices. People are also personally looking for a sense of purpose and fulfilment, and this extends to our employment choices.

As an employer we have an obligation for meeting the basic needs of employees, including the provision of a faith or contemplation space, a well-being space (particularly important for those with neurodiversity considerations). You may also need to provide cycle parking and shower facilities.

Then there are opportunities to create places where staff can find their sense of purpose and have a sense of pride in being part of what is happening. These could be a larger-than-expected cooking and eating space (if that’s a big part of your workplace culture), or a big screen and a load of sofas for a film night.
And with rapid changes in tech and the potential disruption from AI technology, knowledge transfer and retraining will be on the agenda for a few years to come.

And of course, designing with EDI requires more than just changes to the physical space. It’s about creating an environment that’s welcoming and energising for everyone. This includes generous wheelchair access, consideration for the partially sighted, and those with hearing difficulties. An intelligent people-centric workplace is one where every individual feels valued and supported.

If your lease is due to expire soon, contact the Rhino team to find out how you can futureproof your business using our unique data-driven approach.

For your office design & build project

Office design & build is an art that’s difficult to get right. 

Our friendly team at Rhino Interiors are experienced in creating quality workspaces.

We draw on over 45 years’ of workspace design and implementation experience. We deliver workspaces that meet your employee and business needs. This will boost productivity, attract the best talent and improve communication in your business.

If you have any questions, or would like some tailored advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. 

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