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Flexibility and amenities key to UAE office sector’s future

Offices need to offer flexibility, with a variety of spaces to allow for both collaboration and private conversations Dubai Tourism
Offices need to offer flexibility, with a variety of spaces to allow for both collaboration and private conversations
  • Offering must evolve with workforce
  • Flexible spaces come at a premium
  • Mixed-use neighbourhoods are vital

As workers globally grow resistant to spending all week at their desks, even the UAE’s strong-performing office sector must rethink its offering to meet shifting demand, industry professionals have told AGBI.

“Since the pandemic, people have realised that the workplace has changed for ever. We are not going back to working in the office 80 percent of the time or whatever it was back then,” says Tim Martin, managing director at architecture firm Gensler Middle East.  

Professionals now like to conduct their more focused work at home, while using the office to brainstorm, collaborate and socialise with colleagues, Martin told AGBI last week as Gensler released its 2024 global workforce survey.



Workers also want offices in areas where they can grab a coffee, get lunch, or do a grocery run, according to the survey, which found that employees typically spend half their time in the office regardless of their employer’s specific in-person or remote-work policy.

“For owners and developers, it’s more about deserving people’s commute, whereas it used to be a given,” Martin says. “As investors look at this more and more they are realising having an isolated business district is not the future, they really are becoming defunct.” 

If the UAE’s office sector is to avoid the fate of the US and Europe, where empty high-rises are selling for pennies on the dollar, it will have to embrace key concepts, such as flexible spaces, amenities and mixed-use neighbourhoods, according to industry professionals.

In its first-quarter report on Dubai’s office sector, Savills noted an increase in companies looking for more flexible spaces. For now, this trend is not having an impact on size.

“Companies that have adopted hybrid working models are reconfiguring their existing office spaces to include more collaborative areas and enhance the workspace environment, rather than reducing their footprint,” Savills said.

This trend is likely to accelerate as Dubai authorities embrace the concept of the 20-minute city under the 2040 Urban Master Plan and pledge to support flexible working hours and remote work to help ease traffic congestion.

“Flexible workspace must be considered in all new developments going forward,” Ben Johnston, director for offices and business space leasing at real estate services company JLL, tells AGBI.

“In Dubai’s Grade A developments, we have seen flexible workspace form up to 8 percent of the total leasable area in projects, with average occupancy in these flexible spaces sitting at over 90 percent.” 

Just as office high-rises incorporate flexible workspace, hotels and malls, residential buildings should offer co-working rooms or shared desks to “capitalise” on the hybrid-work trend, Johnston adds.

According to Gensler’s 2024 global workplace survey, high-performing offices typically provide staff with different spaces for different tasks – for example, dedicated areas for video-conferencing, confidential conversations, regular in-person work and breaks.

CRC
Behnam Bargh says situating businesses within residential areas reduces commuting times and alleviates traffic congestion
Better by design

Such elaborate fit-outs may sound expensive, but Gensler’s Martin says smart, adaptable design that’s planned out early for the specific needs of a firm can give more workers access to seemingly high-end spaces.

“Cost can be misleading: you can spend millions on an office and it’s not agile at all,” Martin says. “If you can make the space very flexible, in theory it actually doesn’t cost any more. In most cases it will cost less.”

Investors and developers can also look to the surrounding neighbourhood for additional amenities such as gyms, restaurants and parks. Ultimately, the future of the office in the UAE might rest upon urban planning that encourages more mixed-use development.

“By situating businesses within residential areas, accessibility to local residents is improved, consequently reducing commute times and alleviating traffic congestion,” says Behnam Bargh, managing director at real estate agency CRC. 

“Individuals can spend less time commuting and more time engaging in leisure activities or with their families, leading to increased overall wellbeing.”

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