Back to the future?

Investment is flowing into the office market, it’s just that it’s not necessarily in London. Managing director of Bohle, Dave Broxton, explains why.

Just as the growth in factories of the Victorian age brought workers together for their nine-to-five (or longer) work shift, so the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 pushed people away from urban centres and decentralised employment.

Overnight, city centres became ghost towns, while property value in the regions shot up. The death of the office was predicted as workers connected to colleagues by video conferencing software, and bosses realised that they didn’t need to look over employees’ shoulders to ensure work was being completed.

This, however, has not played out quite as expected. As 2020 came to a close, investment flowed into the office sector, this time focusing on how to make workers feel safe and secure, enough to return to work.

While many of us may have felt happier working from home at the start of Covid, it now appears that rather than turning our backs on the office, we’re looking for a hybrid solution.

A report by Huawei in August 2020 found that 75% of employees in the UK were happier working from home, with 60% wanting to work from home at least three days a week. Only 17% didn’t want to return to the workplace at all, which leaves 83% who still want to return to the office, even on a part-time basis.

What the pandemic has actually shown is that shared office space is more valued than ever.

In October 2020, the British Contract Furnishing Association conducted an in-depth review of office work and concluded: “Despite speculation that the office is dead, and businesses will move to full time remote working, the office still has an integral role to play. Just what this looks like will vary from business to business, but the evidence is clear that businesses need engaged employees to increase productivity. Offices and collective spaces are key to this, delivering employee choice, control and balance increasing engagement.”

The report found that: employees were more satisfied working from home if they had a dedicated desk and working space; face-to-face collaboration cannot be fully replaced by virtual meetings; and isolation is a big driver of disengagement.

So, instead of threatening the future of the shared office, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 actually demonstrated its value.

What became important, therefore, was that employees felt safe and secure if and when they returned to the office. Usefully, this doesn’t require a major shift in mindset because the solution is already part of what we are used to.

Modern workspaces have already evolved to promote open, light and flexible areas, with glass partitioning already a defining trend, pre-Covid.

Bohle launched FrameTec Select 2.0, a variant on our industry leading FrameTec commercial and domestic partitioning system, in May 2020. It’s designed to have a more industrial feel, while its modular format means it’s also easy to fit.

Importantly, it provides sound proofing up to 39db. If it is one thing we’ve appreciated working from home, it is the quiet space in which to concentrate. We don’t want to lose that when we return to the office.

Frame and glazing profiles have the same, low depth of 36.5mm which provide a straight-lined design, and ‘industrial’ appearance.

The glass panes are safely clamped and held fast using high-quality sealing strips, which means there is no need to process glass on site.

Available in a powder-coated, matt black (RAL 9005), the dry-glazing system can be configured with either a single door or combined with over-panel and sidelight options.

For facilities managers, FrameTec Select is multifunctional: it invigorates the office space by offering the light open spaces workers have become accustomed to in the home; it helps prevent the transmission of Covid-19 by providing effective barriers; and it helps zone-off meeting spaces for effective one-to-one meetings.

For fit-out businesses it provides easy installation, building margin into their business model, with the opportunity to up-sell to a number of different finish and design options.

While the effects of Covid-19 continue to have an impact on our working lives, the benefits of systems like FrameTec Select go way beyond that of simply reducing the risk of infection.

The pandemic proved once and for all that the shared office has a vital role to play in employees’ productivity by providing both stability and flexibility, and that glass partitioning systems are an effective and profitable way of achieving those aims.