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Category: Office news

UK commercial property leases are getting significantly shorter according to a new report from the British Property Federation and Investment Property Databank (IPD). The survey of 10,000 leasing agreements for commercial, industrial and retail properties showed that average lease lengths fell from 6.2 years to 4.8 years between 2007 and 2011.

This is a trend that will continue for some time, especially for smaller businesses, with over three quarters (78 per cent) of leases to SMEs in 2011 under five years in length and an average lease length of just 4.1 years. The reasons are not hard to find. Occupier demand continues to be weak and for those firms looking for properties it is important to maintain flexible and more short-term arrangements, with landlords keen to oblige them to meet their own liabilities. It is also a sign that occupiers want to plan for change. This means not only working on shorter and more flexible property leases, but also building flexibility into their organisation through the design and management of their workplaces.

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It’s not often the New York Times is interested in office design, so when it does it probably means something important. In a recently published article, it would be reasonable to conclude not only that we increasingly share common working cultures with our friends over the pond but also that we are distracted and annoyed by the same things. Not least by the background din and disturbing sounds made by our colleagues.

Of course we’ve reached this point by different routes. Workers in the UK were never often holed up in the cubicles we associate with offices in the US, but we did have the even more substantial walls of cellular offices to shield us from the racket made by our co-workers. In both countries the problems of poor acoustics and lack of privacy have been exacerbated by the shrinking of workstations as firms take advantage of smaller technology to fit more people into open plan. We can’t help but agree with the people in the article that the solutions are broad ranging. Office design, culture, management and plain old courtesy all have a role to play in dealing with the situation. It’s essential that we do this if we are not to undermine the gains associated with open plan working.

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Augmented reality has really come into the mainstream in recent months with high street furniture retailers using it to ‘try before you buy’. Enabled by the omnipresence of smart phones, this technology is quickly appearing in new sectors and urban planning and interior design is one.

VTT, the Finish research company responsible for this move, uses augmented reality to make digital changes to a physical landscape, allowing users to see how construction or interior efforts will change a space long before the first foundations are dug.

In real time terms, it means you could see the view of the new school development across the road from your doorstep during the planning consultation process or for a director to ‘experience’ his new head office interior before the ink’s even dry on the lease.

In a world obsessed with instant gratification this tool can give us a taste of what’s to come – it removes surprises and gives assurance. We’re all familiar with 3D rendering - buy a new kitchen and you can see how each colour and cupboard design looks until you’ve found the one for you. But augmented reality supersedes this. It digitally overlays 3d design onto real information. It is spatial, showing things at the proper scale and experiential, making things much more realistic than ever before. We can use it to excite investors, wet clients’ appetites, drum up stakeholder support and update on progress.  Its value for architects, urban planners and interior designers is priceless. The question is how quickly we’ll see this become part of our daily working lives.

All cities have iconic buildings and perhaps none more so than New York. The new World Trade Center, which stands on the site of the twin towers destroyed during the September 11 terror attacks, has now reached its highest point.

A shining angular landmark on the New York skyline, it’s said to symbolize hope and resolve. Many critics were concerned that the tower would struggle to be profitable, only attracting government agency tenants and becoming an expensive 1,776-ft monument.

Then came Conde Nast. Taking 1 million square feet from floors 21 to 40, Conde Nast is the World Trade Centre’s anchor tenant.  Although years in the making, this deal is breathing new life into lower Manhattan and declaring it a great place to do business.

Already, other larger companies are being enticed to the area and the local economy is starting to diversify. This shows that it’s not the building that signifies New York’s resilience and resolve. It’s the companies that do that, the ones that choose to make the new World Trade Centre and Lower Manhattan a thriving hub for business once again.

Of course, we’ll never forget what happened on September 11th 2001, but those that vote with their feet and money, move in staff and create jobs, will make the World Trade Centre an infamous business address for the right reasons.  That’s got to be the most shining example of hope yet.

*To view the picture source please click here.

It’s been a while since anybody found Dilbert particularly incisive in its once barbed portrayal of corporate life. And of course the cartoon’s depiction of North American cubicle  dwellers was always a bit of a curio for Europeans. Now news reaches us from across the pond that the days of space hungry cubicles are limited for US offices too. Data published by property trade association CoreNet Global at the end of February showed that for the first time the average allocation of space for each office dweller in many North American companies will drop below 100 sq ft (approx 10 sq m) for the first time over the next five years.  According to the research, over 40 per cent of the companies responding indicated they would reach this all-time low benchmark of individual space utilisation by 2017.

Of course, this has been the case over here for some time. In the eyes of some organisations, 10 sq m per person might even be considered a bit roomy. What is telling is the reasons behind the increase in space densities  in both the US and Europe reflect a convergence in thinking as a response to similar challenges and changing working cultures. Even the comparative affordability and availability of land in the US have been unable to staunch the tide of cost cutting initiatives and the need to make buildings more collaborative.

More proof that when it comes to office design, we Brits are the true pioneers.

Acxiom, LondonF gases form part of the Kyoto Protocol’s ‘basket’ of greenhouse gases. Action to contain, prevent and reduce emissions of F gases has been taken by the EU as part of its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol which runs to 2012. The EU framework has been fully implemented in Great Britain by the Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulations 2009 (FGG Regulations 2009). The regulation applies to almost any building with an air conditioning system that utilises refrigerant and coolants to reduce the interior temperature and is especially common in larger workplaces and offices. It’s a weighty piece of legislation beyond the scope of this comment so if you have any concerns it is worth getting advice either from an installer or from the DEFRA website. It’s also a problematic piece of legislation in its own right because so far it is failing to reduce the level of emissions needed by the Kyoto Protocol. So, as part of a consultation begun at the end of 2011 and again due to be finished in the first half of 2012, the EU is proposing a series of amendments including bans on new equipment containing F gases, extending the scope of the regulations to other systems and the introduction of a scheme for the phasing out of F gases.

Discussions on a range of proposals to change the EU directive have been ongoing for some time. One of the most important of these is the potential for workers to opt-out of the fixed maximum of an average 48-hour working week. Less clear cut is the discussion on whether or not any time spent on call should be treated as working time, not least because of problems defining what is ‘on-call’ in a world of mobile and ubiquitous technology. This could potentially lead to significant changes to the UK working time laws in due course. This has dragged on for long enough. In April 2009 the initial negotiations from the EU came to an end without agreement being reached. In March 2010, the European Commission started a new consultation looking at the options for reforming the directive. In December of that year the Commission launched the second stage of the review and it will now be preparing formal amendment proposals for this year. Given the long and troubled history of this legislation and the fact that it can sit at odds with the way we work nowadays, and you have the makings of another delay

The enduring health and safety war is now reaching its latest phase. Already organisations like the HSe are showing signs of growing tired of the criticisms they face, which is why the HSE came out fighting last year, most famously to deny it was responsible for people not being allowed to sit on Henman Hill (or whatever it is currently known as). In 2012, there will be blood.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to wage war against what he calls the ‘excessive health and safety culture’ in the UK. How this is resolved in 2012 will depend very much on how various stakeholders respond to the findings of last year’s Löfstedt Review. The report was carried out by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt of Kings College, who looked at 200 pieces of health and safety law. His recommendations will aim to simplifying and streamline existing regulations, focus enforcement on higher risk businesses, clarify obligations and rebalancing the civil litigation system. That all sounds great but there is concern about what it will all mean in practice.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) responded to the review by claiming the Government’s views on health and safety could be problematic, especially by exempting smaller firms and the self-employed from legislation In its response ISOH says exempting from health? and safety law self-employed ?people whose jobs don’t pose a?risk to others is unnecessary and unhelpful – it’s a backward step and sends out the wrong message. It believes defining work in this way would be difficult, and could cause confusion to self-employed people and micro businesses. There isn’t long to discuss it, with a first stage deadline of June 2012, so this is another story that will run and run. All we know is that things will change significantly.

To read more health and safety related comments please click here.

Published in December 2010 and coming into force in large part in April 2012, the Localism Bill is a long planned and core platform of the coalition government. It is designed to shift the balance of power away from central government towards local government and communities. The bill has the potential to transform the structure of the UK, changing the way we own local assets and run local services. It will also have a profound effect on local property markets, both domestic and commercial although how exactly that will manifest itself continues to be the subject of debate. As is often the case with such legislation, its effects will only be known in practice, not theory.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and British Property Federation (BPF) are two organisations who have  welcomed the Localism Bill. Amongst other things the Bill will give councils greater control over business rates and give local communities more control over local planning decisions including the transfer of usage between domestic and commercial property. If implemented properly and positively, this can only be a positive step for local business and communities.

The past few years have invariably featured new or amended legislation with regards to flexible working. This year will be no exception. In 2012, the Government is due to issue its response to last year’s consultation on modern workplaces, with proposals for introducing a new system of flexible parental leave, flexible working for all employees, amendments to the Working Time Regulations to allow staff to carry-forward holiday entitlements and new measures to encourage equal pay. A response to the consultation has been delayed as a result of ‘ongoing discussions within Government’, and is now due to be published in ‘early 2012’. So watch this space.

One thing that is definitely happening in March will be new legislation in response to the revised EU Parental Leave Directive which will see the amount of unpaid parental leave available to those employees with parental responsibility increase from three to four months for each child under the age of five.

Of course, many companies have their own flexible working policies, many of which exceed their statutory requirements because they are driven by sound business thinking, especially in the way they help to recruit and retain the best staff. As is always the case with new legislation however, what actually happens as a result of its introduction is not easy to predict. Certainly it would be a shame if new legislation in this area discouraged firms from taking on staff.