What does best-in-class sustainability look like for flexible offices?



By Tanya Broadfield, Senior Sustainability Consultant at Savills

Although catastrophic in many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity to reflect on how we might create a positive legacy moving forward, especially when it comes to sustainability. Innovative, adaptable and responsive, the flex office market is well placed to deliver this as we navigate new ways of working.

Companies now have the opportunity to make their operations more resilient and more sustainable as they are forced to change out of necessity. Shorter supply chains, higher energy efficiency, increased videoconferencing and digitisation will all need to be considered. What’s more, businesses are also under more scrutiny than ever before about how the decisions they make will affect their employees and customers.

Many of us have experienced an enhanced sense of community during the pandemic, such as clapping for our carers and getting to know our neighbours. As a result, there is now a collective sense of not wanting to lose that spirit. There have also been various health and well-being benefits, such as the emphasis on exercise. Before the Covid-19 pandemic short-term leases were thought to potentially lead to disengagement with a community and its surroundings. However, now the growth of decentralised and flexible working may in fact help to maintain and enhance local connections.

For the first time large, traditional organisations such as Barclays are now rethinking their entire long-term location strategies. For instance, the bank is now considering utilising small local branches for office staff, as opposed to large central offices for thousands of people. Flex office space could support this move towards decentralisation and help to sustain some of the reductions we’ve seen in greenhouse gases and air pollution from reduced travel.

Flex office space also offers a great opportunity for sustainability factors to be approached more holistically through consolidated services for multiple occupiers. Take cleaning for example, rather than multiple tenants all employing their own individual cleaners and setting their own hygiene standards, there would instead be one team for the entire building. With larger service contracts in place it becomes easier to facilitate social value gains such as local employment and integrate higher sustainable procurement standards. In short, consolidated services offer a range of opportunities for sustainability factors to be improved.

Data, however, will remain a challenge for the flex office market in meeting occupier sustainability demands. Sustainability measures are largely built upon a foundation of good energy, water and waste information. Therefore, short leases and co-working both present challenges for landlords or operators to be able to accurately meet occupier requests for this type of data.

Contrary to long lease office space, the flex market would be wise to remove occupier controls for heating, cooling and lighting. This may mean that building managers face a higher number of complaints regarding comfort, however the impact upon the sustainability performance of a disengaged short lease occupier could be disproportionately negative.

For organisations with increased concern regarding their sustainability credentials, well-managed flex office space could allow them to concentrate on improving measures within their own business and activities, without the distraction of property factors.