Companies over recent years have been redefining staff productivity and the way workplaces are designed. This is in reaction to five major constructs driving the changing nature of work, influencing real estate from office layout; how corporate property is physically built and internally structured; and what types of commercial space are in demand. The five constructs are the evolution of rapid and accessible information technologychanging demographics; an increasing focus on sustainability of businesses practicescost reductions; andshifting culture and work patterns.

The evolution of workspaces

One of the consequences of the proliferation of information and communication technology (ICT) has been virtual teams. Especially applicable to economic sectors made up of ‘knowledge workers’, virtual teams* eliminate the need for commuting and sizeable floor space while offering utility cost-saving along with process flexibility. Although there are advantages, this type of organisation is most appropriate for geographically dispersed project work, and the lack of regular face-to-face contact can make coordination and leadership difficult.

With most in the formal workforce remaining in-house staff, and with the IT, design and creative industries often needing to operate beyond the standard working hours (in part due to web technology and the wide consumption of online content), building security and on-site parking have become prominent features to consider when purchasing or leasing commercial space. As interdisciplinary collaboration is often required in today’s world, many offices are now designed along open plan lines to encourage teamwork and open communication. With younger workers highly competent in technology and eschewing cubicles and tall organisational hierarchies, corporate tenants and investors are demonstrating great interest in commercial buildings with amenities such as kitchen and staff recreation areas – even showers for physically active staff members. Recognising this, developers in the Cape Town CBD**, the Waterfront and Woodstock areas have been completing, refurbishing, and commencing construction on modern office blocks that offer improved working conditions, co-working in collaborative space and work-life balance.

Contrary to what open plan may suggest, total floor space can be compacted yet result in more efficient usage. For starters, mobile technology means staff do not have to be anchored to specific areas to be productive. Desktop computers and large files are no longer absolute necessities, meaning workers occupy less space per capita. Larger conference rooms can be replaced by video conferencing and small rooms for internal or client meetings. Importantly, corporations have been organising their space into activity-based workplaces (ABWs) – staff move amongst designated areas depending on the activity undertaken. Benefits include reduced cost of procuring floor space and electricity consumption; plus inter-unit cooperation and business flexibility.

The local case – streamlining workspaces and adapting work patterns

Commercial property specialists in Cape Town and South Africa have noted that, with the ongoing electricity trouble experienced by the national supplier, businesses have begun focusing on the efficient use of workspace through consolidation. The industrial and manufacturing sector in particular (owing to high dependence on electricity) has adapted by shifting work hours to off-peak times and concentrating operations onto single sites.

To ensure survivability, sector companies are seeking facilities with smaller floor space but greater volume via internal stacking height. Demand for B-grade industrial stock has strengthened, despite a shortage. The main appeal is affordability over A-grade sites, with additional considerations primarily being sufficient power generation and yard space.

As business practices and technology change and the power supply difficulties continue, it is best to remain up to date on current events and macro trends as these directly influence the types of commercial space sought after in the market.

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