The hybrid event, which takes place online and at the America Square Conference Center in London, will focus on a range of topical issues, including Smith’s speech on the need for workplaces to encourage diversity and inclusiveness. Prior to the event, Smith spoke to Property week share his thoughts on the subject.
In your WorkSpace Conference + Showcase presentation, you will talk about “inclusive” office spaces. How would you define an “inclusive” office space?
The spaces we design and manage should be purposefully and carefully created for as many people as possible, allowing them to feel safe and secure and to have a sense of belonging and allowing them to do their best. We need to create and maintain spaces that do this for all users, regardless of age, gender, ability, neurodiversity, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, identification sexual or reassignment.
Are there outstanding examples of large offices that encourage diversity and inclusiveness?
I spent the first 13 years of my career with the BBC Workplace team. We had a clear commitment: the BBC belongs to everyone and must be accessible to everyone. Maybe it was only when I left there that I realized how forward-thinking he was in terms of inclusion and how much the workforce represented the company compared to other workplaces. Alan Bainbridge and the team delivered wonderful inclusive spaces including BBC Cymru Wales New Broadcasting House which is a fantastic model for designing neurodiversity.
In your opinion, how successful is the industry as a whole in making office spaces inclusive?
We must do better. Consciously or not, as an industry we continue to offer many spaces designed for the office workforce of the past: white, cis, able-bodied, middle-class, straight men.
We still have a long way to go before the UK real estate industry reflects the diversity of our society and local communities. According to your source, 80 to 95% of British architects are white; 70 to 75% are men; and about 95% come from privileged backgrounds. Nothing can replace lived experience – to create inclusive spaces, we need to enhance the diversity of the teams that create them and bring the voices and perspectives of diverse groups into the design process.
Meeting regulatory requirements is not enough. More than ever, offices need to be places where people want to work; they now have to compete with working from home and the hyper-personalization it provides. Now is the perfect time to make sure inclusion is at the heart of your post-Covid workplace strategy, design, and operation.
Many office items that are hailed as avant-garde can be quite expensive. What can occupying SMEs do to make their spaces more inclusive with a limited budget?
With diversity in mind, you will often end up with superior solutions that benefit everyone. Creating inclusive workplaces for as many people as possible from the start also often means that you reduce the cost of multiple accommodations after completion. You’re probably spending a lot more on your employees than on your real estate – creating spaces that attract, retain, and activate your entire workforce will help you become more productive and monetize your significant investment in your talent.
Hear the diverse perspectives of users – understand their work experiences and collaborate with them to rethink spaces and services. You will often find that relatively minor changes to the environment or processes can remove significant barriers. Provide choice and flexibility, so different people can use spaces in different ways. Think about what you need to unlearn and keep learning.
Is there a geographic divide on this issue? Do you find that offices in London are more likely to consider inclusiveness in their design than offices in the regions?
I find it seldom actively considered beyond regulatory requirements in projects across the country, regardless of location. Occupants who may have a more mature DE&I strategy or dedicated leadership in this area are clearly more focused on this. Real estate stakeholders often mistakenly retort that this is an HR or core business issue and wonder if we can really make a difference. Join my presentation to learn more about why we need to change and some more specific ideas on how to do it.
Workspace, featuring AV Works, takes place on October 1, 2021 in London. Property week and AV Magazine will join forces again to bring your groundbreaking content that will open your eyes to the changes happening in the workplace.