British Council for Offices proposes changes to key design criteria to reflect recent unprecedented external influences and lower occupancy rates

The UK’s leading forum for the discussion and debate of issues affecting the office sector, the British Council for Offices (BCO), has released a position paper proposing updated key design criteria, as part of its most recognised publication, the BCO Guide to Specification.

The guide, which is normally published every 4 or 5 years, provides expert best practice advice on how to specify office space, helping industry practitioners provide space that meets the needs of occupiers, helping them to conduct their business in safe, healthy, comfortable, and productive workspaces.

This selective update comes ahead of schedule and is in response to significant changes to the office sector since its last publication in 2019, with the pandemic drastically transforming the way in which we work and use the office.

Key drivers of change identified in the 2019 Guide to Specification remain unchanged. These include focus on people experience and well-being, drive for creativity and productivity, use of technology, adaptability for the long term and economic value and return on investment. However, what had not been anticipated from these broad trends was the accelerating rate of change induced by the pandemic and the increasing adoption of net zero carbon targets across the business world.

The single most important criterion however is occupancy. The BCO’s current view is that occupancy peaks will be no greater, and utilisation no higher than pre-pandemic levels, when the return to work has stabilised. It warns that offices should avoid over specification, minimise waste, and move progressively towards net zero carbon, in both construction and operation.

The BCO also considers broader influences such as changing standards and planning requirements, adoption of new technology, and the desire to continually improve the user experience in the workplace.

The paper additionally outlines new recommendations for office design; some considerations included are:

  • Lower average occupancy densities
  • Reduced small power and lighting load allowances
  • New criteria for office lighting and daylighting
  • Revised lift and toilet provision and new sustainability targets
  • An extended range of structural grid sizes
  • Improved ventilation, with a higher rate of outdoor air supply per occupier, and better indoor air quality

Some recommendations from the 2019 Guide remain unchanged and these can be found in Appendix A9 of that document.

The intention of these updates to the BCO Guide Key Criteria is to reflect changes in design thinking over the last three years, through the BCO’s aim to capture and share best practice guidance informed by research and the expert experience of its members.

Many of these criteria will be discussed and explained further at the BCO’s annual conference in Manchester this week, where industry experts will expand upon the most pressing considerations for office designers, gauge the views of the broad membership and debate the proposals.

The principal authors of the position paper are Neil Pennell (Landsec), Peter Williams (Stanhope), Peter Stocks (Cundall) Saul Tyler (Hoare Lea).

The BCO would also like to thank Will Poole Wilson (Will + Partners), Clare Danahay (Be Inspired Design), Bill Evans (D2E), Simon Russett (Hoare Lea), Benjamin Lesser (Derwent London), Nick Offer (WSP), David Healy (WSP), Stephen Hill (Arup), Rahul Patel (Arup), Roaa Babiker (Buro Happold), Bill Evans (D2E), Simon Russet (Hoare Lea) and the Benji Lessors team for their expert contributions to the paper.

Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO, said:

“Recent disruptions have changed the way we use our office spaces, while our continued focus on tackling the climate crisis, changes in regulations and improvements in technology have all accelerated the desire for renewed design guidance to meet the evolving needs of occupiers. My sincere thanks to all BCO members and experts who contributed to this position paper which puts the BCO at the centre of the debate to inform the design of the next generation of office buildings in the post pandemic, net zero carbon world.”

Neil Pennell, Chairman of the BCO’s Technical Affairs Committee and Head of Design Innovation and Property Solutions at Landsec, said:

“We’ve heard first-hand from customers that, whilst the office remains an important part of their businesses, they are using their space differently. We now have a great opportunity for the industry to work together more closely to shape the future of sustainable workspace.

“The BCO’s renewed proposal will help create healthy, comfortable and productive workspaces that are fit for the future. We are already working on the revision of the BCO Guide to Fit Out and welcome our members to join the conversation at this week’s conference.”