The commercial landscape, particularly for investors in – and developers of – workspaces in centres like London, has shifted significantly in the wake of Covid.
Well-designed, sustainable spaces situated close to transport hubs have long been key drivers shaping the look and feel of new buildings.
However, there is now an existential threat to the future of the office. This has arisen partly out of the huge rise in the numbers of people working from home and increasing demands from staff for more attractive work environments offering ‘softer’ incentives – communal social areas, gyms, cycle storage facilities, showers – which traditional offices lacked.
It also reflects the changing demands of national and regional regulatory environments, and the need to reassure stakeholders of the long-term ESG benefits of new investments. In many cases, retrofit – or ‘adaptive reuse’ – has fast become a more attractive option than new build against a backdrop of ever tightening planning restrictions on embodied and operational carbon targets.
Why does this matter to us?
This shift in attitudes among investors, developers, occupiers and local authorities is changing the way in which built environment comms and public affairs professionals make the case for the office.
To achieve planning – especially in areas of London like the City and Canary Wharf where clusters of tall towers have existed for decades – there is a need not only to demonstrate relevance and appropriateness of new proposals, but also a flexibility to adapt over time to meet changing market conditions.
And one of the most fundamental shifts in the equation is the expectation of new developments to deliver measurable social value to the communities they serve. The modern-day office can no longer be a self-contained bastion of commerce as it once was; it needs to visibly connect with the wider public and give something back to those visiting and living and working in the area in which it is located. This is of particular importance in locations already dominated by commercial schemes, where growing residential communities are increasingly vocal in engaging with developers and placemakers.
Effective communications can help to explain an investor’s motivation for a new office development and place the investment proposal in the wider context of its corporate communications strategy. It can also demonstrate the immediate and longer-term benefits of a scheme to the politicians, officers, statutory consultees and influencers who help make and shape decisions on a scheme. In particular, social media is making the relationship between stakeholders, influencers and the wider public far more immediate – and potentially exposed if not managed effectively.
Our experience with our international clients tells us that London is holding its own in the return-to-the-office campaign; nonetheless, our comms must rise to the challenge of helping schemes stay on message and being well received. Otherwise, there is real risk of failing, bringing with it associated negative impact on wider corporate reputation and even upon the fabric of the life of the city itself.