A few weeks back, our team at King’s Cross celebrated National Inclusion Week. Now in its 10th year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reflect on the property industry’s progress, while recognising the challenges (and opportunities) that remain, especially for the office market.
Despite the obvious negatives, the pandemic provided an unprecedented opportunity for global businesses to recruit from a more diverse audience. Remote working meant that those who might not have considered – or been able – to work physically at corporate offices now could.
During the pandemic, one of our occupiers Meta began hiring fully remote roles for the first time, enabling them to double the number of women in their global workforce and double the number of black and Hispanic employees in the US since 2019.
But as the world returns to the office, this newly diverse workforce is hit with a different problem: threshold anxiety. This is a term used to describe the nervousness felt by people when entering a space that isn’t designed for them. Corporate fortresses can be an incredibly intimidating prospect, particularly for those with different cultural or neurodiverse backgrounds. Why would this new, diverse and often young workforce give up their remote setting in exchange for an environment that’s totally ungeared towards their needs and expectations?
Defining an inclusive environment isn’t easy, and our understanding of it will continue to change and evolve. I see it as a place where everyone feels welcome, comfortable and able to perform at their best. It’s about providing choice, being cognisant of people’s needs and understanding that what works for some doesn’t work for all.
We must recognise diversity in all its guises and challenge the status quo. This could be as granular as addressing the impact of lights, sounds and smells to inclusive wayfinding (the process of navigating your way around a building) that is inclusive.
As we design and build for the future, providing baseline functionality for neurodiverse people isn’t a nice-to-have – it’s non-negotiable. By alienating underrepresented people, we are alienating an incredible pool of talent, and that is fundamentally bad for business.
Tackling threshold anxiety and designing buildings that are welcoming to all is not a problem office occupiers should have to solve on their own. As developers and asset managers, it’s our responsibility to consider diversity and inclusion from design inception through to the operation of our assets.
It’s vital that we get people over the threshold and encourage them to return, not just from a social value perspective, but from a commercial perspective, too – creating places people return to makes your asset viable in the long term.
Designing for the future also requires an understanding of Gen Z – people born between the mid-1990s and late 2010s – who by 2025 will make up 27% of the workforce in OECD countries and one-third of the Earth’s population. It may seem unlikely now but designing for today’s teenagers might just be the key to ensuring the longevity of your building.
With the next generation in mind, we’re in the process of creating a truly ‘public’ ground floor for a flexible workspace building on the King’s Cross estate, beyond a simple coffee shop in the office reception. We’re considering how the ground floor could bring a wider benefit to our local communities and in turn make it a more inclusive space for everyone.
Considerations like these, as well as actively listening to customers, will help us move closer to a more diverse and inclusive estate. As custodians of place, it’s our job to drive this agenda rather than relying on regulation to do it for us.
To progress, we must first acknowledge and challenge our blind spots. Construction at King’s Cross is set to be completed in 2024, but by no means will our job be done. The estate will never be a static place and we will keep listening to our customers, stakeholders and communities – current and future – to ensure we keep challenging what we think we know.
Helen Causer is office and investment lead at King’s Cross