REACT News: Leeds provides a template for the future-proofed office

REACT News recently published an article which featured Fiera Real Estate and Opus North’s Kings Court office development in Leeds.

Originally published by REACT News, 6th October 2020.

Author: Eamon Fox, Knight Frank

Regional cities have the opportunity to be at the forefront of future-proofed offices.

The noise of screeching breaks and scorched tyres echoed across the UK earlier this month, as the government performed a U-turn as Prime Minister Boris Johnson abandoned his campaign to encourage everyone to go back to their offices in the wake of rising threat posed by Covid-19.

This is a blow that we must absorb and from which we must learn. We must plan, with optimism in our hearts, for the future. In the short term we will respond and adapt to fit the government advice; in the long term, we will create a brand-new office environment which will fully embrace, not just the challenges of the 21st century, but also the lessons learned from this terrible pandemic.

Let’s be clear. Whilst working from home remains an important piece of the jigsaw of our complex working lives, it is not a permanent solution. Its lustre is wearing off. It can be incredibly stressful coping with the pressures of work at home – for home has its very real pressures too. I also feel we are running out of steam, both socially and economically, as a result of our horribly disrupted lives and part of that is because we are not going back to the workplace. Something huge is missing from our lives.

We must remember that humans need physical interaction for a range of reasons, not least for health and wellbeing. Physical interaction for the sake of our communities, families and friends, workplaces and our cities is vital. In general, staying at home quite simply is not sustainable.

We were already seeing changes to the workplace before this global pandemic struck. These trends are now speeding up. They include a movement towards more agile working, an imaginative variety of workspaces for employees, as well as offices as hubs for collaboration, innovation, learning and development. We are buildings on these ideas.

Leading the market for the future-proofed office

So what specifically lies ahead? I am currently working on delivering 12 King Street in Leeds, the ex-HQ of law firm Walker Morris now owned by Fiera Real Estate Opportunity Fund V UK, and leading Yorkshire developers Opus North, to the market. We believe that these radically refurbished offices will reflect a flight to quality and will set the standard for post-Covid developments in 2021. Crucially we are focussing on getting the technology correct, believing strongly that success will follow.

Building, Office Building, Human
12 King Street is being overhauled into a modern workspace

We have engaged with our target customer base for this special development from the very start and the constant message from employers is that employees are less motivated when they are not in the office. Our approach is to offer super primes offices in 2021 which boost enthusiasm, productivity, creativity and innovation.

We are creating the post Covid-19 contemporary workspace in the heart of Leeds, where technology, open spaces, roof gardens, fresh air, air-conditioning, combined with an exemplary approach to customer service, ensure we are the best-in-class office product in the city.

We have challenged our design team to innovate and think outside to box to ensure we’re not just ploughing the same old furrow and doing what’s been done before. We have embraced the current climate, rolled with the changes and now we are close to launching the future of the post-pandemic workplace. Watch this space.

Elsewhere in Leeds there is every reason to believe that the office is here to stay, following several significant office deals during the past couple of months. One of the most high-profile was the decision by fast-expanding law firm Knights to take 22,000 sq ft at Rushbond’s Majestic in City Square, next to the rail station. Knights will join Channel 4 in this state-of-the-art building, a template for the 21st century office. APAM’s 1 City Square will complete later this year and has seen letting activity this month which will be announced very soon.

The city already has other occupier-ready buildings, too, which have tackled the challenges of the modern office. Take 34 Boar Lane, for example, arguably the most dynamic mixed-use destinations in Leeds.

Formerly CGU House, and located immediately opposite the railway station and Trinity Leeds shopping centre, the 56,000 sq ft building has been transformed into diverse community of like-minded people shaping a place together, with connected environments –  digitally, physically, socially, but within a design-led, tech-savvy quality space for occupiers to work safely within.

Inspirational buildings such as 34 Boar Lane, Platform, 1 City Square and Town Centre Securities’ comprehensive redevelopment of 123Albion Street, together with proposed developments such as 12 King Street and CEG’s Temple on the city’s South Bank, point the way to a bright post-Covid 19 future.

The modern office must change – but there is every indication that developers and occupiers, working together, can create a new office environment where everyone can work safely and productively together. As a result, working from home must become an occasional and attractive option, rather than a stressful, pressurized necessity.