Irene Bisset, Chair and Co-Founder, National Pride UK
Will nature-based business parks become post-Covid workplaces of the future?
Our ways of working have changed fundamentally since the pandemic took hold and as time goes on, it is becoming clearer which changes will be a permanent fixture. Video calls and hybrid events are here to stay, and working from home at least part-time is very much still the norm.
The future of office space and how we should use it has therefore been at the forefront of many minds in business and the built environment sector, including that of National Pride UK here in Scotland.
As highlighted by Frasers Property, urban and out-of-town commercial property hubs are no longer competing against each other. The new competition is working from home and a key component of this is access to nature.
When office design firm Morgan Lovell asked workers in a poll how they would redesign their office for a post-Covid future, the most popular choice was the addition of outdoor areas. Above all other redesign choices, 45 per cent wanted direct access to nature to benefit from natural light and being outside.
The firm says we are approaching the era of Workplace 3.0, with Workplace 1.0 being a binary space with either desks or meeting rooms, and Workplace 2.0 being open-plan offices with the occasional sofa.
Workplace 3.0 – the workplace of the future – will feature collaborative and social hubs balanced with spaces for quiet work to enable maximum productivity. At the core of the Workplace 3.0 is wellbeing and connection to nature.
No matter how well-designed they are, urban office settings will find it challenging to provide an outdoor environment that is genuinely connected to nature.
The unfashionable peri-urban business parks of the past won’t inspire mass exodus from city centres, but might the post-Covid era see demand for a new generation of stylish, eco-friendly out-of-town office buildings immersed in nature?
London-based architecture firm Apt have been considering this shift for a number of years and have called for a ‘reimagining’ of business parks. They point out that the UK’s best-designed business parks have an asset that urban offices will never be able to compete with – a stunning, biodiverse setting.
Having an appealing office environment has become one of the most critical factors for recruitment and retention in a competitive market. With access to nature being one of the most important features employees want to see in offices of the future, savvy business owners should be prioritising accordingly.
Not only that, but an increasingly holistic approach to environmental social and corporate governance (ESG) factors is driving business decisions about office environments.
Business parks of the past relied heavily on car access, so the next generation will need to provide new, non-car-based connectivity such as trains, trams, buses and bikes.
Densification will also be key to sustaining such developments, such as being embedded in an eco-system of residential buildings, schools, shops and services.
As a Community Interest Company, National Pride UK takes redundant land and buildings to transform them into biodiverse spaces with a carbon zero plus footprint.
Our first two projects are Eco-therapy Wellness Parks at former coalmines in East Ayrshire and Fife, and demand for next-generation office spaces with excellent connectivity to nature will be a key consideration in our plans.
The past two years has brought about rapid change, and nature-based office environments will undoubtedly become a firm fixture in Scotland’s workplaces of the future.