5 archetypes for the office of the future — and the forces that will drive it

by Brianna Crandall — March 18, 2019 — Office companies alstria, COIMA RES, Colonial, Gecina, Great Portland Estates and NSI in recent months conducted a full pan-European focus group analysis to better understand the future of the modern office building from an end-user’s point of view.

Considering the ever-increasing importance of understanding how the needs of the users of office buildings are evolving, the six REITs decided in the second half of 2018 on an innovative approach, usually applied to the consumer goods industry. A number of focus groups, comprising selected office users, were asked to share their vision of the future of the modern office building. This analysis is reportedly a first for the European office real estate industry.

European survey of office building end-users

Focus groups across Europe were asked to share their vision of the future of the modern office building. Image courtesy Gecina

The focus groups included 18 meetings and interviewed 140 end-users in the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and Italy on their vision of the future user experience, the evolution of the workplace, the evolution of organizational structures, and more generally the role of tomorrow’s office building in terms of use and service.

The end-users who participated identified three principal drivers:

  • Sociological: The role of the company office will evolve to respond to workers’ needs to have meetings, collaborate, socialize and feel fulfilled at work.
  • Environmental: In the future, employees will be much more demanding and much more questioning in terms of what a potential employer will be doing to tackle climate change.
  • Technological: Artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data, robotics and hyper connectivity will affect the way people work and connect as well as the organization within companies.

The participants also described five archetypes for future offices:

Sustainable office:

  • More sustainable and natural building materials
  • Sensor-enabled workspaces for energy efficiency optimization
  • Spaces that encourage a green conscience among employees

Smart office:

  • Mobile office: uninterrupted access regardless of physical space (in/out of the office)
  • Seamless network access enabled by WiFi-friendly, non-blocking materials
  • Remote technology aimed at recreating/enhancing human interactions
  • Biometrics uses for security (access to buildings) and instant profile uploads

Flex-office 2.0:

  • Modular spaces: walls for all uses (open space, collaborative, confidential)
  • Modular furniture to accommodate the various ways people like to work

Serviced office:

  • Multiple on-site facilities to facilitate work/life balance
  • Showers, bathroom facilities and large, equipped kitchens to share meals

“Sweet” office:

  • Office spaces similar to home or a café in terms of design and well-being
  • Incorporation of office spaces for recreational use and relaxation
  • Adaptable features: ergonomic seating, adjustable lighting, temperature, & music
  • Warm tones of décor, and walls that change their view and/or scent

The focus groups were conducted among a population of both younger and more experienced professionals working in traditional offices or flexible working spaces throughout urban locations in Europe. According to Gecina, there was not a significant difference between the visions of various age groups. Office end-users were recruited among the whole market — not just among the 6 REITs’ clients. Their opinions reflect their own views.

Olivier Elamine (alstria), Manfredi Catella (COIMA RES), Pere Viñolas Serra (Colonial), Méka Brunel (Gecina), Toby Courtauld (Great Portland Estates plc) and Bernd Stahli (NSI) declare in a joint statement:

The main outcome of the detailed information and data that has been gathered through the focus groups is that listed companies to a large extent are already designing and offering to the market the buildings of 2030. However, we need to maintain our innovation pace and continue to offer best-in-class products to our clients if we want to stay ahead of the game. Our end-users have a very strong and clear view of their needs and what they expect their workspace to look like by 2030. By listening directly to them without intermediaries, we have gathered very strong insights about the likely evolution of our market. It is clear that offices are more than ever the preferred choice for our end-users. Despite the technology, the need to meet, to share and interact within a dedicated space, in the most central locations, is growing, but “co-working” is not the only emerging subject — there are other revolutions.

alstria, COIMA RES, Colonial, Gecina, Great Portland Estates and NSI created a think tank in December 2017 aiming to group together the sustainability and innovation best practices of the six European REITs and to selectively conduct joint research.

For expert insights and more details on the focus group survey from Méka Brunel, CEO of Gecina, read Brunel’s blog: “What are the 5 main expectations of office users for 2030?

A summary of the European opinion qualitative survey is available on the Gecina website.