As published in BE News on 20 March 2023

The British Council for Offices (BCO) has published an updated version of its ‘Guide to Specification’ outlining the best practices and standards for office design and construction in the UK. It has done so in response to the momentous changes in how office spaces are being used compared to pre-pandemic times. So, what’s new in the update?

The guide was last published in 2019 and is generally updated every five years, but the BCO released a 2023 edition ahead of the normal review schedule, in light of the impact of the pandemic. The latest version features several key updates, particularly in relation to occupancy levels and space provisions.

One of the most significant changes, and in addition to amended sustainability targets, is a shift in how occupancy levels are calculated. In previous editions, the guide used the standard occupancy density of one person per 8m² for open-plan offices and one person per 10m² for cellular offices. However, the new guide acknowledges that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we think about office occupancy and places greater emphasis on personal space and physical distancing.

It outlines a new methodology for calculating occupancy levels that takes into account both the usable areas of a workspace and the desired physical distancing requirements. The guide now recommends a range of 10-12 m² per person, although it acknowledges that these figures may need to be adjusted depending on factors such as the layout of the space and specific needs of individual organisations.

This change in guidance has a significant impact on design, affecting structural grids, toilet provision, end-of-journey provision, vertical transportation and MEP design. This is, of course, guidance and designed to be reviewed by the professional teams on each project to suit the various assets, occupancy types and investment strategies. Diversification of building loads needs to be considered, as does futureproofing assets for future flexibility.

Another important update is the greater emphasis on providing flexible spaces that can be adapted to meet the changing needs of occupants. The guide notes that the pandemic has accelerated a trend towards more flexible working arrangements, such as remote working and hot desking, and that this has resulted in a greater demand for versatile office spaces that can accommodate a range of different working styles and preferences.

To meet this demand, the guide recommends that office spaces be designed with a variety of zones and areas that can be used for all purposes. For example, a workspace might include a mix of open-plan areas for collaborative work, quiet zones for focused work, and meeting rooms that can be booked on demand. The guide also recommends that spaces be designed with movable furniture and partitions that can be reconfigured as needed to accommodate different working arrangements.

There is also a greater focus on providing amenities and facilities that support the health and wellbeing of occupants. To support these goals, the guide recommends that office spaces be designed with a range of features such as windows that provide natural light and views out, green roofs and living walls that improve air quality and breakout areas and quiet spaces that provide opportunities for relaxation and stress relief.

Overall, the 2023 update of the BCO Guide to Specification represents a significant shift in how we think about office design and construction in the wake of the Covid pandemic. By emphasising the importance of personal space, flexibility and health and wellbeing, the guide reflects a growing recognition that the office of the future must be able to adapt to the changing needs and preferences of occupants while also driving a need for closer cooperation between building owners, operators and occupiers.

Will Pasco

Regional Managing Director
Management Board

Textured polygon shape