The future of work is sustainable in more than one way

The office of the future should be a fascinating, inclusive and green working environment

November 18, 2022Real Estate
The discussion about returning to the office has many sides: space, frequency, environment, organisation, and sustainability, among others. And since the physical workplace is still important and will not be phased out, it is important to understand how ESG will be addressed.

Furthermore, ESG can’t be used only for marketing purposes (also known as ‘greenwashing’); it has to be part of the general planning and discussions surrounding the return to offices.

“Employees must have a reason to return to the office, and it must offer a clear value proposition over working from home. Only a well-designed and modern office building can meet these increased demands”, affirms Stefan Klingsöhr, Managing Partner of Klingsöhr Group.

For him, the three basic pillars that are indispensable in a modern office are well-being, sustainability and social interaction.

Well-being is a topic that was addressed by Rachel Hodgdon, President and CEO of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), in one of our Office Global Committees.

“Healthy design and operational strategies are proving to be a critical differentiator for real estate owners and operators attempting to recruit and retain tenants, and for employers who are attempting to recruit and retain the best talent”, said Hodgdon.

Employees understand that it is their employer’s responsibility to ensure they have a healthy work environment.

“A recent poll by Gartner suggested that 70% of workers returning to the office want to know what is being done to make them safer when they return to work”, Hodgdon said.

And this includes social justice, climate change and diversity inclusion in orgnisations. How to accomplish this varies from company to company, but these are definitely issues that investors should be looking at.

“It’s not just employees that want to know what your company is doing, your investor wants to know it too”, affirms Hodgdon.

New vs. old buildings

When addressing the environmental part of ESG, Klingsöhr has a strong point of view about using older buildings versus new buildings:

“To meet the needs of modern workers, a vast majority of older buildings simply do not tick all the boxes. In many cases, it is simply impossible to implement smart and environmentallynfriendly technological solutions in an older property”, said Klingsöhr.

Although many discussions focus on renovating and converting existing buildings into sustainable and functional ones, Klingsöhr understands that this does not meet the new demands of tenants and workers.

“Based on our experience and discussions, we have found that existing spaces do not achieve the same well-being standards as a new building, even after they have been fully refurbished”, said Klingsöhr. “Building occupants have become very selective and think carefully about every space they rent and whether it satisfies their requirements. Space concepts must be flexible enough to incorporate quiet zones, communal spaces and meeting points.”

This idea of an office ecosystem aligns with the research from Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics: she talked about organisations moving to an ecosystem where there are fewer private spaces and assigned seating, but more small conference rooms, social spaces, lockers, team rooms and activity-based workspaces.

“New buildings can and should be designed and built to comply with strict Energy House standards to maximise their energy efficiency. Modern building management systems can be used to manage cooling, ventilation, heating and solar protection systems, thereby optimising the building’s energy consumption”, affirms Klingsöhr.

And the S in ESG?

When discussing the social side, Lister brings an important perspective: The environment needs to be inclusive for minorities who are underrepresented in companies. Her research shows that these employees prefer to work from home rather than return to the office.

“Companies have found that remote work can lead to finding more diverse employees around the world. But if this issue of minority equality is not addressed, we can create second-class citizens and polarise the minority groups even more”, Lister said.

Another important question to address is how people can get to the office. Leicester and Klingsöhr both understand that new spaces must be easily accessible, mostly by public transportation or alternative means other than cars, and as close as possible to where employees live.

Written by Gabriela Colicigno