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The office building and the new normal

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What can we learn from the crisis when it comes to reimagining workspaces?

Our lifestyles will certainly be changed by this unprecedented episode, which will permanently disrupt our perceptions and behaviors. Indeed, the health crisis will have taught us how important how to benchmark reliability, trust and structure, and reinforced our focus on what is essential 

The office is certainly an example of an essential structure for our society, in what it embodies and what it represents. It is a constant, an essential place still widely acclaimed by many, regardless of their contractual status, their social background or their generation.
However, we cannot deny that the office is evolving, already changed from what it was just one year ago. The crisis has reinforced certain changes that were already in motion (remote working, co-working and digitalisation), it has integrated new practices that will stand the test of time (a range of digital applications, new management systems etc.) but, above all, it will have eliminated the unnecessary. 

What should we keep from the past? What new things do we need to integrate into our daily lives to overcome this crisis and prove ourselves ever more resilient? 
 

The office and remote work are not competitors, they are allies

During the health crisis, differing opinions about the future of the office were present. Some predicted the death of the office, others the inefficiency of remote working. It is clear that things are never that simple. The structural changes that we have seen in recent years are still very much present and have simply been accelerated. The series of lockdowns that we experienced have given us the opportunity to take the necessary distance to understand what we want or no longer want.

The office remains and will remain the essential place for socialising. The human after all is generally a social animal. The office as such promotes these interactions being a place where people can come together and evolve. At the same time, teleworking and more generally nomadism are practices that hold many benefits. Allowing independence, time saving and greater comfort. Let's not forget, remote working is not limited to the home office, many co-working offers or third places will continue to emerge. Places that have yet to be imagined. Soon, with the rollout of 5G in particular, we will be able to continue to work in an ever more nomadic way; on the train, in a cafe, at a friend's house. However, working from home 100% of the time is not desirable either. It would risk dehumanising our relationships and cutting us off from one other.

Some companies have taken excessive positions: “full-time remote working”, “the office as an exception” or even “remote work for life”! Let us wait and see how the generation of new recruits will react, observe how collective projects will evolve and see what innovations are created. 

The study by the Workplace Management Chair of ESSEC Business School carried out in September 2020 goes in this direction. [1] Of the 2,643 surveyed, only 19% were accustomed to remote working. Following the first lockdown, 73% of the participants wanted to continue the experience of working from home after the pandemic. At the same time, many still favoured the office and its traditional spaces. 31% of respondents thought that two days of teleworking per week was sufficient. They wanted to spend, on average, 55% of their professional activity in the office! The numbers are clear. Teleworking should be no more than three days a week, in addition to office spaces that promote interaction, non-verbal communication, creativity and spontaneity in social relationships.

Our office spaces will therefore continue to evolve, holding on to what users want to keep. They will become more hybrid, modular and able to accommodate different activities. Above all, they will be more inclusive, more open to the city and its inhabitants. We can also imagine optimum connections between the head office and its regional or international annexes, which, from a societal point of view, encourage the fluidity of transport and appear to be more environmentally responsible.

The office remains a space of diversity and transmission of knowledge

The ESSEC Business School study underlines that the populations most inclined to a generalization of teleworking are firstly Millennials (individuals born between 1978 and 1994), senior executives and employees in Ile-de-France. Let's not forget, we are not all equal when it comes to remote working and we do not all have the same view of the office. First of all for reasons of financial and technical resources (access to fiber-optic internet, furnished and sufficiently large spaces at home, etc.) but also from a cultural point of view. This can be seen, for example, when we compare the United States and China. Certain companies established in several countries practice adapted strategies: 100% teleworking across the Atlantic whereas the Chinese managers of the same group remain very much attached to everything being face-to-face. In Europe, we are generally somewhere in between. 

The sector of activity is also decisive in the planning of teleworking times. All of this must be taken into account in order to maintain the well-being and development of the employees of a company. What is the common denominator for these very different profiles who nevertheless collaborate together? The office! It is in the office that this diversity comes together, exchanging, sharing, debating, finding compromises and above all ensuring transmission between generations. This last point is rarely mentioned and yet it is essential. Full remote learning seems unlikely, face-to-face allows you to create long-term bonds of trust and humans generally operate by mimicry, they observe, reproduce, improve and adapt techniques and knowledge that they then share. The more experienced transmit and the younger ones learn while questioning this transmission, which ultimately allows both to evolve and progress. This is a process that has always existed. 
 

BNP-Paribas-Real-Estate-Direction-Committee-Sylvain-hasse

The office remains and will remain the essential place for socialising. The human after all is generally a social animal. The office as such promotes these interactions being a place where people can come together and evolve.

Sylvain Hasse
Head of Corporate Services at BNP Paribas Real Estate
France

Agility cannot the be-all and end-all

Sometimes you have to know how to recognise what worked well and will continue to work well. By striving to make everything agile, there is a risk, paradoxically, of becoming too rigid. Businesses that never stop pivoting generate questions and a loss of meaning. Human beings need benchmarks, a certain consistency, vision, to be able make choices, to validate them and to measure the experience. Numerous psychological and sociological studies have shown it, in order to flourish, we need stability. Of course, change is important, it allows us to challenge ourselves and respond to challenges in a creative way. But, the office must also be this peaceful, planned, organised space, the source of a successful experience, capable of reassuring and fostering collaboration. It is in a setting like the office that we can focus, be stimulated and produce new concepts.

The office is a space that we must constantly reinvent. We must continue to enjoy coming there and above all going there for clear reasons. Let’s not forget, this is a fundamental social space, where you meet colleagues and even friends. In our lifetime, it is as important in terms of socialisation as school or leisure. If we can integrate all of this, then the future of the office looks bright to me. I see it as a functional and interactive space, complementary to the greater freedom induced by teleworking.

This is what I see behind this ongoing process, now defined as "New Normal": a better sharing of time and space in the service of collective well-being.

[1] http://workplace-management.essec.edu/mon-bureau-post-confinement/mon-bureau-post-confinement-ii

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