The dominance of face-to-face contact is being challenged by resourcefulness when we are compelled to collaborate at a distance. Perhaps, as we emerge from this human health emergency, we will be keener to curtail travel to and for work.
These first decades of the new century have witnessed the emergence of dominant evolutionary forces acting on the culture of work – issues like equality, diversity and inclusion. Whilst millennials and Gen Z are credited with championing these values, in truth the swing away from a culture of work rooted in bias, gender inequality, oppressive hierarchies, and inflexibility is a welcome cross-generational shift mirroring wider societal progress.
As high streets and shopping centres are finding to their cost, we are not afraid to vote with our feet to seek out engaging environments that support aspirational lifestyles. It’s no surprise, then, that we are increasingly unenthusiastic about working for employers who consider regimented desks, flat lighting, colourless meeting rooms and instant coffee, adequate to meet our human needs.
As architects, we set the direction for the design of progressive education environments. Our designs fuse learning, research and social spaces. This supports a lifestyle of learning and work together, rather than discrete activities separated by place and time. Students emerging into the world of work expect workplaces to offer a similar fusion of work, personal development, flexibility and social connectivity, in spaces that are not mono-functional – but offer choice.
Young people now look for role models from their own generation – Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai – as enablers of environmental and societal change: they will not accept business as usual in the workplace when progressive movements are defining new values for companies.
According to research by student accommodation provider Liberty Living, Glasgow and Edinburgh are highly rated on atmosphere, amenities and transport links, helping them retain 51 per cent of new graduates, more than any other UK cities. The expectations of this valuable workforce must be considered by workplace developers and designers if the spaces they offer are to attract and retain the best talent for employers.
BDP is supporting clients like Barclays, Google, AstraZeneca and PwC to deliver workplace interiors, buildings and public realms that respond to the climate emergency, reflect their values, are an overt expression of their commitment to corporate social responsibility and create people-centred places supporting productivity and wellbeing. New workplaces offer spaces that mimic cafés and hotel lobbies, supporting casual meetings and touch-down for clients. They incorporate running tracks, rooftop parks promoting wellbeing and bio-diversity, and even urban farms that produce fresh food for occupiers.
The secret to the success of built and future developments like Google London at King’s Cross or Barclays’ Buchanan Wharf is, in part, thanks to the recognition that high-quality, active public realms soften thresholds that can divide isolated workplaces from common space, integrating the places in which people work with the wider city that sustains the balance of their waking hours.
The need to work from home, to maintain social distancing, causes us to reflect that we are essentially social animals – at our most effective when we collaborate in teams, families and communities – deserving of workplaces that inspire creativity, celebrate our collective humanity, and allow us to thrive.
Bruce Kennedy is an architect director at BDP’s Glasgow studio