We know it and live it: a one-size-fits-all approach to work is moot. As landlords come to the realization that future workplaces will be defined through the lens of people instead of property, the rules of office design are shifting. This overhaul is an area of expertise for Cushman & Wakefield’s Despina Katsikakis – some advice she shares with clients at the start of any project? ‘Offices aren’t buildings – they’re total ecosystems that embrace all the places employees work.’

International partner and head of occupier business performance at the commercial real estate firm, Katsikakis has, for the last 35 years, committed herself to transforming the workplace. Learning from clients who look to boost employee engagement and then informing landlord and developers on how to future-proof their buildings and developments, she has a keen understanding of the themes disrupting work today. At Frame Awards 2020 we asked her to share those insights: watch Katsikakis’ talk The workplace: new metrics for success here, and read on for main takeaways.

Thinking about the human experience at work will be a fundamental change we see over the next decade

‘The key themes that are disrupting the way we think about the places we work are AI and automation, a shift in demographics and sustainability,’ said Katsikakis, ‘or, as I like to think of it, our new awareness that we need to have resilient people and a resilient planet. All three are starting to radically redefine how we think about place and particularly how we think about places we work, why we need them and what we do there.’ Katsikakis believes that ‘thinking about the human experience at work’ will be a fundamental change we see over the next decade – ‘for the first time ever, our buildings will be both smart and healthy.’

This is necessary, she outlined, because the workforce itself is drastically different than ever before – there are five generations at work today and ‘at least ten to 15 per cent of the population are neurodivergent’. But only 50 per cent feel that their office actually supports them and a staggering 78 per cent would like to be more flexible in their work options, crediting a desire to increase productivity and achieve a greater work-life balance. What does it mean, then, to create a total workplace ecosystem that accommodates the needs of these diverse employees? Katsikakis explained that it’s a matter of managing space, time and experience to create lasting value. ‘The moment you think about the workplace as a wider ecosystem, you begin to really bring value to individuals – by optimizing their time, enhancing their quality of experience and supporting their lifestyle and wellbeing. But at the same time, it drives corporate value, liberates capital, supports business flexibility and allows greater talent access and increases investment value.’

Creating a total workplace ecosystem is a matter of managing space, time and experience to create lasting value

‘The office was first built to demonstrate power hierarchy and to have control over what people did. Today, the office is there to embody the brand culture and values of an organization – to live their brand, and drive and enable community. Our clients that do this best recognize that they need to treat their employees as a customer and they take, fundamentally, a hospitality approach to real estate.’

Katsikakis shared three projects in London, Sydney and Toronto that embody this approach. Their commonality is that they valuably ‘embrace work, living, leisure and retail, and recognize that we do not go somewhere to work, we actually tap into a network of places that blur those boundaries throughout the day. They are all community-focused and give up most of the area into public realm.’ She continued, ‘The things that we find amazing about successful cities are now the things that are driving the characteristics of a successful workplace – the ability to have interactive overlapping functions.’

The office is absolutely here to stay, but in a very different manifestation

So, the absolute answer to the end-destination workplaces are heading? It doesn’t exist: ‘There's never an either/or answer,’ Katsikakis pointed out, ‘it's in multiple solutions that will change over time.’ ‘I think the office is absolutely here to stay, but in a very different manifestation. There will be a real emphasis on how design – and people-centric design – can really drive unique fulfilling experiences that help us better thrive in our life and our work.’


Want to tune into Frame Awards 2020 talks and panel discussions? Subscribe to our YouTube channel here – we'll be releasing the insight-driven conversations in coming weeks. Read more overviews here.