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Will Lewis – director of OBI Property – on daring to be different

What sort of office do you work in? If you’re over 35, I’d be willing to bet it looks quite a bit different to the first office you worked at – less private offices for bosses or partners, probably; less room taken up by filing cabinets, almost certainly. There’s been a lot of change in office design, but it’s our view that there might be more radical changes to come.

More and more, we see evidence that occupiers are re-appraising their approach to the workplace and are less willing to have a ‘standard’ fit-out foisted on them. One factor is technology – the advances in mobile technology mean that people are genuinely able to plug into the workplace from remote locations more reliably now than was the case a few years ago, so space can be used more imaginatively. One implication of cloud computing is less need for storage space, whether on servers or in physical form. You can ‘do more’ now.

Basically, we’re finding that the urge to do offices differently goes further than having trendier artwork in reception or brightly-coloured chairs. Great news, we say – whoever said there was a rulebook to follow, anyway? With more companies on the move now that confidence is returning, it’s a topic we’re spending a lot of time looking at.

It’s become a massive selling point for tech pioneers like Google – every so often the press will be issued with arresting shots of wondrous airy spaces and things in odd places when the company opens a new office. Social media is full of ‘WOW!’ type comments. But there’s more to this than just gimmickry.

The office Mediacom North is creating in Spinningfields is a great example of how a new office can still be a cool workspace. Together, we looked at the style of the workspace in the nearby Tower 12, which forms the basis for the new building – exposed mechanical and electrical services, pendant lighting and not a suspended ceiling in sight. Often you’ll see this in redeveloped warehouses, but there’s no reason not to do it from scratch. Why hem things in?

There’s always a bit of cynicism among seasoned property types about this kind of thing – that a bit of wackiness is OK for outliers like Google, or funky little creative consultancies who only employ four people – but we reckon things have changed and the market has recognised that. This particular building has been sold on the investment market at one of the keenest yields seen in recent times, just reward for the landlord who listened to what the occupier wanted, and delivered it. It all seems so simple.

So what this deal really shows is that being different, taking in new ideas and paying attention to what staff want and what new technology can allow can pay off on the bottom line too. It’s our view that those developers churning out the same product time and time again could miss a very active slice of the market. By extension, the companies who don’t put a bit of thought into what they really want their building to say about them might suffer in comparison to competitors who’ve dared to be different.

www.obiproperty.co.uk

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