In describing what its new HQ would provide, it said that the building would “set new standards in sustainability and accommodate more than 1,800 seats”. Seats. Not desks. Not workstations. And certainly not offices which – with its connotations of cubicles and corner offices – are increasingly seen as an outdated way of looking at working environments.
Blackstone’s choice of the word “seats” speaks volumes about “white collar” work in a post-Lockdown world.
It underlines how hybrid working has altered the relationship between individuals and their workspace. Hot-desking was, of course, an established practice before the pandemic, but the way in which the concept of working space has shrunk to a simple seat is an attitudinal landmark.
It also hints at the planned trajectory of Blackstone’s UK business. The US giant currently has 500 people in London so, if it’s projecting a need for 1,800 seats, well – as our American cousins say –“you do the math”.
It’s a shift of attitudes which also asks questions of other stakeholders in the sector. Will leasing agents start referring to “seats” in their marketing collateral for space? And where does this leave one of the erstwhile pillars of the office sector: the British Council for Offices’ space density person measure?
Interestingly, while the concept of “seats” may feel like packing people in, the BCO has signalled this week that current trends – and workplace efficiencies – mean that space densities should be relaxed rather than intensified. Recommended densities had steadily tracked up since the Millennium, but the BCO is now proposing that the base-level occupancy criterion should be relaxed from the current UK average of 9.8 square metres per person up 10-12 square metres.
So whilst the Blackstone cohorts may not be able to have desks festooned with family pictures, stress balls and their favourite coffee mug, they may end up getting more personal space.