Mike Buchan: What makes a good office?

This may seem a dry subject, but I suspect most people reading this article will be doing so at their desk or travelling to or from their workplace.

Mike Buchan says the needs of office occupiers are changing. Picture: Contributed
Mike Buchan says the needs of office occupiers are changing. Picture: Contributed

Everyone has a view on their working environment – good or bad. So perhaps it’s worth giving this some further thought?

Unless you work in commercial property, it probably won’t have crossed your mind that in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, we have been accustomed to watching shiny glass and metal structures rising from the ground to satisfy the occupational needs of businesses.

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But that has changed in recent years, for a variety of reasons. Change of use from offices to residential; political instability and the continued uncertainty of the “Scottish Factor”; tax-efficient regeneration initiatives; and – perhaps most importantly – changes in tastes.

Have a look around your office – does it inspire you? Do you like working there? Is it good for your health and wellbeing?

And if you are an employer, what do your employees think about where they work? Well, I suspect they don’t think the same as you – and that is what’s really important.

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For generation Z or the millennials (and if you have to Google what this means, it probably tells you something) – the workplace is a social environment; much more than just a place to work during the day. If I told you that more than 83 per cent of generation Z leave their first job within three years, the quicker employers realise that the quality of their working environment will make huge difference to attracting and retaining staff, the better.

So what is really important to the employee? The British Council of Offices recently commissioned real estate consultancy firm Savills to undertake research on this subject. This enlightening paper, entitled What Workers Want, highlighted some very interesting and important trends.

For example, the most important issue for workers in the UK is the length of their commute to work – perhaps not surprising as London data is included in the research. However, Glasgow has the highest percentage of workers stating that access to good public transport connections as being “important” (91 per cent); 73 per cent want good food facilities; 47 per cent think a good environmental performance of a building is important; and 74 per cent demand excellent quality wireless technology.

The younger you are, the more likely you are to want to work in the city centre and very few respondents would work in a business park by choice. Workers’ biggest frustration is the lack of a quiet space for working, and the research seems to back this statement up by suggesting that there is a negative productivity gap for businesses based in open plan offices.

Enough of the statistics. To me it is clear that needs of the occupier, and as a result the appropriate use of offices is changing, and quickly.

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Companies are looking for office space that differentiates; that sets their business apart from their peer group and attracts and retains staff. Much of this relates to a dynamic fit out of the office space by the occupier, but it also is linked to acquiring the most appropriate office in the right location. Going back to my very first point, this is tricky as not much office space is being built at the moment.

However, there is another emerging market trend prevailing at the moment – the sophisticated refurbishment of existing buildings. This appeals to landlords and developers because the risk of development is reduced. However, it also should be attractive to city fathers because refurbishment often rescues a building from obsolescence and demolition, and should also very appealing to occupiers because of the significant beneficial environmental and financial implications.

Properly refurbished buildings often have historic and quirky characteristics which give a distinct identity to the building, and by association to the occupier. In short, a sense of worth. This is something that we know to be hugely important to many staff, and therefore businesses.

To fully understand this phenomenon, I would thoroughly recommend visiting Shoreditch and having a look around the Silicon Roundabout, Shoreditch High Street, The Tea Building and The Biscuit Building. There’s also The Custard Factory in Birmingham; The SoapWorks in Manchester or – even further afield – 1871 in Chicago. All of these buildings will give you a sense of how much office refurbishment is changing. Closer to home, there are some great examples in Glasgow and Edinburgh including The Whisky Bond, The Garment Factory and CodeBase.

If you are involved in a business that is looking to move office, please involve the younger generation in the process. In my experience, many of those “longer in the tooth” tend to be a cynical bunch and whatever is created in a new office won’t be quite right.

I have witnessed far better engagement from younger members of staff who have a greater enthusiasm for the workplace. By being involved with the process they are engaged with the business and feel that they are making a difference. As a consequence I suspect they are more likely to want to remain with a company, and isn’t that what it is all about?

And finally, if you are moving office, make sure you chose a building with memorable name rather than a just boring number. It appears this makes a difference as well!

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• Mike Buchan is chairman of the Scottish chapter of the British Council of Offices and lead director of JLL, Glasgow