Germany’s incoming workplace evolution.

Germany’s paradigm shift to People Architecture.

Concept design for The Heritage, Dusseldorf. Designed for competition in collaboration with local firm Ehrich Architeken, The Heritage proposed a workplace precinct that hinged on benefitting workers by benefitting their city and community in turn.

As with most parts of Europe, high interest rates, increased construction costs, uncertainty caused by the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and, last but not least, the country’s slower emergence from the pandemic have placed the sector under duress – calling the future of German workplaces into question.  

As cities across the world evolve and adopt these new workplace paradigms, the most common question from the market is this: Is the creation of office space still relevant in this new landscape?

With a period of crisis being a catalyst for clarifying less legible trends, what do we need to offer to attract people back to the common workplace? How can architects work with building owners to ensure that their investment in the development, repositioning or updating of workplace real estate makes sense?

Unlocking value by attracting people.

Despite studies showing that efficiency and productivity are often higher in the common workplace than the home office, there is widespread apprehension about returning to the office for 5 days a week. There is a sense that this means giving up the freedom and flexibility that has been one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic.

At Woods Bagot, we don’t believe that the call for employees’ presence in the workplace is a good enough answer to the situation. It is certainly not one that invites the best talent to provide their best input. Instead, we think that the change required to combat the current challenges offers tremendous opportunity. We can create places that not only focus on efficiency but also actually drive productivity, with activation and interaction leading to new ideas, true innovation, and a real sense of joy in going to work.

Qualifying ‘value’: ESG’s rising impact on office design.

Interestingly, in many cities we are seeing an increasing demand for high-quality offices. However, vacant office space of this caliber is extremely rare.

But what defines a high-quality office? The answer doesn’t lie in in the grade of the reception desk material, grandeur of the internal features or the elevator lining, but with how a workplace feels and functions. As a result, occupiers now predominantly measure quality through ESG ratings, with many firms issuing standard requirements as part of their leasing briefs.

Germany is waking to the ‘S’.

With ESG values widely discussed in markets all over the world, Germany certainly holds a world-leading position when it comes to environmentally responsible construction and building stock. The ‘S’ for ‘social’ however – while being sensibly regulated and acknowledged – appears to be less of a talking point.

In cities like Berlin, even new buildings appear to be less focused on interaction with the public realm. In fact, many office buildings in the region are shutting out any form of urban life – offering small, efficient entrance points into buildings instead. In both cases, these design decisions result in a lost opportunity to celebrate the street level presence and the route that employees take from front door to desk (if they have a desk at all).

More is possible – not only as a commercial necessity but as a much-needed strategy for office tenants across all sectors to better position themselves in the competition for, and retention of, talent.

The three pillars of ESG are Environment, Social and Governance. For designers, the decisions to embed ESG principals in the workplace results in a focus toward making positive impact both inside and out of the workplace – elevating both communities through actions like recycling, reducing carbon emissions, enhancing employee wellbeing and ensuring inclusivity.

At Blue and William, the workplace terrace can act as meeting, break-out and solo work space.

The blur between outdoor and inside at Heritage Lanes, 80 Ann Street, allows for intuitive working according to preference.

Putting people first.

The driving credo of Woods Bagot – ‘People Architecture’ – reflects the trends that are starting to get picked up in many German cities and business hubs. Centered on the core belief that by better understanding how people use the spaces we can add immense value to a property, People Architecture is about looking at a client’s business case holistically and really tapping into the values required for its success when considering the design.

For us, workplace design starts before even thinking about the building and its appearance. Our teams consider ESG values, user demographics and the underlying business case as equally fundamental, and continuously assess the usability and attractiveness to end-users throughout the design process.

For example, when looking at the masterplan for the repositioning of a major landmark commercial building in Berlin, we adopted the position of an outsider looking in, assessing the surroundings as much as the space itself. Who are the targeted end-users? What else is on offer in the vicinity? How can the campus be transformed from a tourist attraction into a workplace destination that is welcoming to visitors and increases dwell times and employee satisfaction?

We also thought about the F&B offer and its differentiation as a key point of attraction for visitors, employees, and tenants. By asking what each user’s journey through the building looked like throughout a typical day, as well as what drove their movements, we were able to incorporate and respond to these decisions during the briefing stage – increasing the value proposition of the project exponentially.

The hyper-connected workplace.

On many projects – for example The Heritage repositioning scheme in Düsseldorf or the new premises of a large company in Munich – we are being asked to create workplaces ‘for innovation’.

While there is only so much that architecture can do to trigger innovation, as much of this is operational and driven by the users of the building, there is an inherent logic to innovation happening when people talk to each other. When people of different backgrounds and industries combine their ideas with knowledge of feasibility and marketability, innovation is bound to flourish. Knowing this, architects can design workspaces that are visually ‘hyper-connected’ to encourage employees to communicate and interact with as many people as possible.

These spaces facilitate encounters and conversation, leading to collaboration and ultimately turning ideas into innovation. Another effect of this spatial approach is the controlled visibility of the workspace environment from the outside, allowing employees to ‘show off’ their working environment (without impacting on confidentiality) and develop a sense of pride in their workplace – one of the key ‘weapons’ in the war for talent.

In the workplace, it’s critical that we are aware of the fact that different tasks require different spaces and different characters prefer different environments. We must strive to move away from repetition and towards maximising the variety of spaces available for the workforce, without compromising the benefits of serial production and rational construction.

Foreseeing the potential for a building’s flexibility and adaptability over time and without major impact on the frame, a ‘looseness in fit’ and the potential to tailor the building to tenant needs are among the core themes for the workplace today. This flexibility must be combined with the continuous focus on the smart integration of building amenities – from state-of-the-art ‘End of Trip’ facilities (which we call “the new must-have”) to event and catering propositions, be these landlord-operated or sublet.

The above concept for the headquarters of a large company in Munich blurs the boundaries between inside and out to encourage outdoor working, relaxing and playing.

Global to local and back.

There is little doubt that Germany is an attractive economy for overseas developers. The region is a leader in sustainable design, with a strong focus on key factors such as operational carbon and timber construction.

Wellness for the workplace, ‘Living Lobbies’, office communities, biophilia, activating the whole building, improved ventilation, optimised daylight, stretching lease demographics, ground floor offers – all these elements can generate maximum value from a workplace building, re-defining what is ‘high quality’.

In marrying international investors’ focus on global tenant expectations with German workplace regulations and ethics and linking global standards with a ‘community spirit’, we see the potential of moving beyond ‘going local’, creating a seamless combination of global experience and local values: going ‘glocal’.