Business

UAE offices need a bit of 'opening' up

UAE offices need a bit of 'opening' up

While modern, varied amenities are desirable in an office workplace, ranging from coffee shops and tech labs to onsite gyms and childcare, we believe spaces that are flexible and versatile - with facilities to enhance work rather than distract from it - offer most value to occupiers.

The challenge now is to assess how best to create such workplaces, and question whether new-build offices hold advantages over older buildings for occupiers looking to create the optimum workspace for their business.

With so much of today’s work performed via faceless, digital technology, office spaces have an increasing role to play in encouraging human interaction. There are several ways in which buildings can be designed to facilitate connection: large open floor plates, open sightlines, and offset cores.

We are witnessing increasing numbers of corporates opt for offices on larger floorplates, but this is not the only way to promote connection. Stairs have always held value as places for adhoc meetings - now, this is being actively encouraged.

Sustainability

With such attention being placed on the redesign of the physical office space, it’s only right that our attention should turn to environmental considerations. The digitisation of buildings with sensor technology and IoT-enabled devices can make buildings both more efficient - by automatically adjusting temperature, air, lighting and acoustics to suit usage - and also make them healthier, more productive working environments.

There are several green building rating systems in existence, the most widely-used being LEED, while locally, Estidama is the sustainability initiative launched by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, where every building is constructed with low-carbon cement, utilises 90 per cent recycled aluminium, and is designed to reduce energy and water consumption by at least 40 per cent.

The Dubai Expo 2020 site will have the largest single development of LEED Gold and Platinum rated commercial buildings anywhere in the world and will form part of the legacy of the event.

Can be used as a USP

For occupiers looking to secure long-term leases, the impact of efficient building design is becoming more important. A new trend for adapting and reusing older buildings is emerging. In the UAE, where we are surrounded by constant new development, there is a tendency to dismiss buildings of only 20 years, sometimes even just 10 years of operation, as old.

It’s time to change this mindset, reinvent these spaces and improve the performance of existing assets.

Flexibility plus

We expect the provision of flexible working space, from both developers, landlords and operators to continue to increase in the UAE. There is a concentrated push towards increasing productivity, and flexible working will be a core tool to achieve this. Talent attraction and retention will become more important to employers and occupiers.

Real estate and operating costs comprise on average around 20 per cent of a company’s overheads, whereas payroll typically stands at about 80 per cent. People are therefore both a business’ largest cost... and biggest strength.

Regulatory changes will drive further consolidation in the UAE’s occupiers market as firms look to further optimise their real estate portfolios. And with occupiers utilising flexible space, this decision may help them better scale up, at a quicker pace, to ride out the more volatile economic cycles, which will in-turn support long-term economic cycles.

Therefore, flexible, collaborative workspaces can yield measurable improvements in innovation and productivity from employees, not to mention higher staff retention and reduced recruitment costs. Then the return on investment is palpable.

- Matthew Dadd is Partner at Knight Frank, where he heads up the Commercial Agency and Occupier Services division.