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The future of tall buildings in question

Skyscrapers and tall buildings are a fundamental part of the construction sector and their increasing presence in cities is a reliable indicator of the health of the industry and the economy as a whole.

Therefore, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing people’s working habits dramatically, with huge quantities of office workers now stationed at home for the foreseeable future, there has been much speculation about the future of the large office block. For SAEMA, which has a long history in delivering the best training and guidance in the temporary and permanent suspended access industry, this subject is of great interest.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned employers in late March that failing to reopen their offices after lockdown could spark an exodus of talent. Speaking to the Telegraph, Rishi Sunak urged employers to reopen their offices when lockdown restrictions are lifted, and said employees expected to work from home full time could end up “voting with their feet” and leaving for another company.

He told the newspaper that working from home was no substitute for a physical workspace, which allowed for “people riffing off each other”, and that an office space was of particular importance for younger workers keen to get a sense of a company’s culture.

Developers believe they will have to provide something different to the traditional office in order to entice home-based workers back into a shared workplace. However, the last few weeks have seen a recovery in office activity and Deloittte’s quarterly survey of chief financial officers of UK companies underlines a returning optimism. Two thirds of CFOs expect the majority of their firm’s workforce to be back in the office by October of this year.

There was a different outcome in a recent poll of 1,000 UK workers by Personio, which found one in four said they would resign from their current job if they were forced to return to the office. A similar survey by So Pure Air of 2,000 UK adults in February found more than two in five (44 per cent) were reluctant to go back to their physical workplace.

Working parents were among those to have reportedly benefited most from the increase in flexible working in the wake of the pandemic. The recent Modern Families Index Spotlight survey found almost a fifth (18 per cent) of working parents wanted to work completely remotely after the pandemic, and two-fifths (42 per cent) of women said they needed to be able to work flexibly due to childcare commitments.

Tall buildings constructed in the past 20 years in UK cities have often been unusual and instantly recognisable, with designs chosen to ensure they stand out from the crowd. London’s emerging skyline contains unique structures such as the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin and the Scalpel. Other cities such as Manchester are following suit and experts have noted the trend is less about the needs of the city and everything to do with changing its image.

The results of the latest New London Architecture (NLA) annual Tall Buildings Survey, launched in April, show that developers still have an appetite for building tall. The survey showed that, while construction work on tall buildings in the capital almost halved during 2020 as a result of the pandemic, planning permissions are on the up. In the capital alone, there are 587 buildings in the pipeline that are 20 storeys or higher.

Whatever the future holds for tall commercial buildings, the need for following the strictest safety measures remains. SAEMA has long been committed to advancing safety through raising the standards in best practice. We have a range of objectives in place to ensure you’re in safe hands.

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