|It is difficult to know what the final effects of COVID-19 will be on our central London offices. However, one thing for certain is that it is going to lead to a bonanza in work for building surveyors. I take the view that environmentally sound offices will always be good offices, so the City of London and the Docklands are secure in their position as London’s premier office locations. That having been said, future offices will need to be significantly repurposed.|
Offices of the future are going to be more like venues: largely open plan with well-spaced desks, a few large meeting rooms and enhanced facilities for catering. These will be where we build company culture, deal with mentoring and gather from time to time. It is unlikely to be the case that we are going to return to a situation where we have serried ranks of tightly packed desks. This is particularly the case where, measurably, companies have become more productive actually working from home. The experiment which was forced on us is being found to be successful in many sectors. We will now be looking at how they downsize and repurpose the space that they have or will look to have in the future. As I say, all of the quality office buildings in the City of London will, I am sure, stay largely the same except reimagined.
Companies from every sector will require professional advice to reimagine their offices going forward, and this is what that is for which building surveyors were trained for. We know how, through experience, how buildings go together and how they can be remodelled in the most efficient and logical way.
The greater part of our new work is, I think, going to be dealing with the vast swathes of secondary offices which need to be repurposed. This is going to keep building surveyors busy for many years in the future.
When one thinks about the West End, Holborn, Clerkenwell, Covent Garden, these are areas where we have previously shoehorned offices into buildings which were not really suited for that use. Many, of course, originally started off as houses. These are often marvellous, interesting and historic buildings, but they do not make for good office suites; they tend to have smaller rooms, awkward staircases, low thermal performance and challenges with fire precautions. None of these things sit easily with the corporate social responsibility goals of most modern companies.
The great ability of building surveyors is to understand how buildings are put together and how they can be altered and adapted. I take the view that many of these secondary offices and older city warehouses will be much better suited to conversion into residential spaces. Either way, I do not see, going forward, that they are going to find use as commercial offices in the same way that they did before the pandemic.
Owners will need to think about how these buildings can be repurposed in a way where income can still be generated. It will be appreciated that conversion to residential is not necessarily ideal if the property is then sold and the asset dispersed. However, the rental market continues to grow, and London will remain a venue where residential, office, hospitality space and the like will always be needed. London is, of course, one of the world’s premier tourist destinations as well as a cultural and historic hub.
All of these buildings will require drawings, specifications, contracts, and monitoring undertaken to deal with the changes and to deal with the complex array of documentation that follows any such scheme of works. It is undoubtedly the case that a certain architectural input may be required for the larger office blocks but certainly when it comes to the smaller schemes, building surveying work in the future is secure and is going to blossom for decades to come.
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