What does Hybrid Working Mean for Commercial Real Estate?

Oct 25, 2022

Of everything that changes in cycles in the workplace, the brick-and-mortar element, naturally, moves the slowest. 

For example, a customer of ours had been in their building for over 20 years. They sat at the same old desks with the same old furnishings.

In this time, their IT had been fully renovated five or six times. 

There was very little happening that could shake the commercial real estate industry up. That is, until hybrid working became an undeniable facet of our culture. 

Hybrid is such a huge change, and it’s so omnipresent, that suddenly estate managers have been confronted with the fact that their building stock is very out of date.

So, what exactly does hybrid working mean for commercial real estate, and what shifts are we starting to see already coming into play?

How does commercial real estate need to adapt to hybrid working?

“Back in the day, businesses wanted an aircraft hanger full of 1.6m desks regardless of whether anyone was sitting at them. That was the office, no ifs and no buts. 

However, now we’re looking at a more fragmented approach to the office. This is the perfect opportunity for a corporate real estate strategy that enforces unassigned desking, provides a much broader mix of types of working space (communal spaces, focus spaces, et cetera) and properly facilitates hybrid working at every opportunity.”

  • Howard Barnes, Creative Lead at Rhino 

While we don’t know exactly what’s in our future, what we do know is that 57% of the workforce would prefer to work on a hybrid basis. This cannot be ignored, especially not when it comes to commercial real estate.

Buildings need to adapt to hybrid, there’s no real way of hiding from that reality. So, what does an up-to-date building look like, and can older building stock be brought up to the new hybrid standard?

What does an ‘up-to-date’ building look like?

Up-to-date buildings are, by design, more efficient, easier to use and are usually designed with the end user in mind at all times. They are built with raised access floors for cabling and services and a void in the ceiling for air conditioning and other utilities.

In addition to this, modern buildings are generally designed with a building management system, making them easier to manage. Temperature and humidity can be carefully monitored and controlled, lighting is a part of the building instead of being tacked on, and their layouts are more conducive to current working practices (hybrid, in particular). 

An up-to-date building is, by default, going to be more suitable for both smart building tech and hybrid working. Staff want to work in well optimised buildings. Fail to provide them with what they want and they’ll start to leave in their droves.

Can old building stock truly be brought up to date?

Older building stock can be modernised, but you can’t change the bones of a building.

While you’ll likely not see older buildings being brought up to the truly modern standards that we’re coming to expect, there are many things that can be done to help ensure they are a better fit for the modern employee.

The challenge is that we need to confront the building stock and take a long, hard look at the fixtures and fittings. While they may not be broken, they’re often incredibly space hungry and out of date. If you want your older building stock to remain relevant, then it’s time to prepare them for hybrid working – out with the old, in with the new!

How to prepare your buildings for hybrid working

Massive office spaces with a sea of desks are now going unused, costing a fortune in rent and rates. Entire offices are being heated/cooled and lit five days a week, often for no real reason. 

Hybrid working means that you’ll only ever have a fraction of the building’s total capacity in at once; the space needs to reflect this. 

The company will bring people in, yes, but it’s the human element and the interactions that keep people wanting to come in; your buildings need to strike the balance. 

A modern workspace needs the right furniture to remain functional. Consider:

  • Installing lockers (so people aren’t leaving their belongings at desks)
  • Creating shared working spaces (comfortable seated areas, collaborative tables)
  • Factoring in focus zones (booths, sectioned off areas for quiet working)

If your building is of older stock, then don’t just wipe its history away. Instead, try to incorporate its uniqueness into the design of your office.

Take the Assay Studios in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, for example. They still retain many of the old design elements (vaults, pipework, etc.), while factoring in a slew of modern comforts and collaborative working areas that help to facilitate the hybrid worker. 

At the end of the day, hybrid employees want to know that they’ll be able to come into your building and complete their collaborative work, while still being able to crack on with their work and focus like they would at home. 

Comfortable Office Interior Design Rhino Interiors Group

How does hybrid working affect the occupier?

For businesses paying expensive leases, hybrid is an opportunity to re-evaluate the office space they’re currently using. 

Now might be a good time to trim back on your real estate costs and get out of expensive leases in order to create a more appropriate environment for your team. 

This won’t always be the case, as many businesses still need to accommodate a larger workforce, however, if you’ve noticed that hybrid working means you’re not filling your workspace, then maybe it’s time for a change to something a little snugger. 

How does hybrid working affect the property owner?

Property owners need to take an honest look at their properties and determine whether changes are truly necessary. 

Now, we understand that you can’t suddenly magic a listed building into an out-of-town business type property, but the rise of hybrid has provided the opportunity to repurpose, reimagine and remarket your property. 

Create a niche, be bold and tailor your building to your target audience. You might even choose to provide a serviced offering in your building, creating a tantalising proposition for SMEs to set up shop in your reimagined workspace. 

This is the perfect opportunity to prepare your building for the future.

Prepare your property for better hybrid working

The sooner you take the leap, the sooner you can start profiting from the changes you make.

Reimagining your building is one of the key first steps to future-proofing your property. Whether it’s a relatively modern building, or of significantly older stock, ensuring that you’re able to welcome hybrid businesses is essential. 

When you’re ready, our friendly team at Rhino will be here to talk. We’ve worked with property owners across the UK, helping them to refit their buildings and meet the demands of business owners.

Click the link below to get in touch with our specialists today.

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