In the UK alone, the coronavirus pandemic has seen a massive shift in the working arrangements for millions of office workers. Most people believe this shift is permanent, leaving many office owners and occupiers with a conundrum - how to best reconfigure their space to meet the changing needs of the workforce.
For many, this will result in the need for some pretty significant fit out contracts as traditionally-built offices are reconfigured. Many of these projects can be fiddly, expensive, and involve a fair amount of abortive work and obsolescence.
Some developers are already seizing the moment, creating buildings comprising both residential and co-working space - such as Detail DMC's Metro Lofts in the Midlands. Having an office 'at home' - but not a 'home office' as most of us are currently using, with makeshift laptop stands and unsuitable chairs - means residents can have the best of both worlds with no commute and all the 'mod cons' a modern office worker needs.
But not all developments will be able to respond in this way, particularly those that are already underway. Simply put, traditional construction methods do not lend themselves well to repurposing at any point in the lifecycle without significant cost.
This is where modern methods of construction can come into their own - in particular the use of platform design such as the programme being developed by the Construction Innovation Hub. Through the use of a standardised 'kit of parts', it is possible to design a building now that can be easily updated to serve a variety of social infrastructure purposes and needs. For example (and planning issues aside), a mixed-use residential and office building could easily be updated to increase (or indeed decrease) the office-space-to-apartment ratio; or, through fairly minor non-structural reconfiguration, office space could easily be switched to a retail offering should the call back to the big HQ office hubs be too strong.
But these benefits cannot be retro-fitted; they need to be designed into a scheme from the outset, with a consultant team experienced in design for manufacture and assembly.
It doesn't have to take another pandemic to cause a shift in society's working and living patterns - we were already seeing the retail sector in chaos way before news starting coming out of Wuhan - but progressive developers embracing MMC may just find themselves better placed to respond to the changing needs of society throughout the lifecycle of their assets.
Metro Lofts, in West Bromwich town centre, is currently being refurbished to deliver 47 new apartments. Now, the development is set to be the first residential building in the Black Country to include bespoke co-working space for residents – as part of its enhanced amenity. The change in approach reflects an increasing desire for office-based workers to work from home, whilst still demanding quiet space and quality IT infrastructure.