Despina Katsikakis

We must repurpose dated building stock to make complex, compelling places that tempt us back to the workplace, says Cushman Wakefield’s global head of workplace and BCO president

I’ve been a ‘critical friend’ reviewing Socius’ office schemes. The data on employees’ sentiments has changed dramatically since the pandemic ended. We conduct a regular global survey of 185,000 people across 150 countries.

There’s been a drop in employees’ sense of ‘being trusted’. This blossomed from 35% to 90% during the pandemic as businesses flexed how employees might work. Post pandemic that has dropped to 65%, perhaps because of ‘return to work’ mandates. More telling is people’s sense of well-being saw a massive drop from 75% to 39% - among those willing to admit it.

Two critical drives are flexibility of schedule – which 95% want – and flexibility of location (85%). People’s main reason for coming to the office is social, followed by collaboration and mentoring – particularly for young people, who’ve been most negatively impacted. Their third reason is a good work/life balance. But we have back-to-back online meetings and pressure to be ‘on’ all the time. This is damaging people’s effectiveness in focusing and planning.

Our survey revealed a drop from 75% to 60% of people feeling good about this. But it’s that drop in sense of well-being that captures what the real estate industry must understand. Is this a challenge of design, or is the real estate world being set up to fail because it is attempting to solve management issues?

One of people’s drivers is an inspiring workplace. I was shocked by a journalist recently who said ‘we are seeing a demand for more cubicles in the office’ – a reflection of the pressure people feel.

The workplace needs to be compelling. A hospitality mindset is required. The landlord and tenant relationship is no longer B2B, it is B2C. Buildings have to make people feel better to improve performance. Added value lies in the base building.

As the city has become more like a building – in which you can work where you choose - buildings need to become more like a city, with variety, character and appeal. Work is an eco-system of locations based on personal and functional needs.

What’s interesting about Socius is their focus on social value and how to bring that to life with a combination of economic, environmental and functional resilience. That focus on social impact is critical. We need to repurpose building stock within our cities to create and support a new resilience, blend functions and experiences, in complex places that resonate with our humanity.