The Future Is Flexible (and Active)

The British Council of Offices (BCO) established in 1990, is the UK’s leading forum for the discussion and debate of issues affecting the office sector. In 2017, they published a research report on the rise of cycling and its impact on the real estate market. Five years later, and two years into an unprecedented and global pandemic, their follow-up report paints a clear picture of the future – it is flexible and active. Because we know you’re busy we’ve summarised the report below, but if you’re keen, you can download the full report here.


The growing awareness of Environmental, Social and Governance factors in the corporate world has no doubt been a major driver of change when it comes to the prominence and quality of end-of-trip (EOT) facilities.

Between 20% and 25% of respondents of the BCO’s survey noted that showers, lockers, and secure bike parking would encourage them to cycle to work. With the transport sector continuing to be the largest emitter of Co2 in the UK, the real estate sector is beginning to play a pivotal role in moving the needle by investing in quality EOT facilities to encourage active transport.

Quality and Quantity

While this isn’t news to us, the BCO found that EOT facilities will be a key differentiating factor for buildings attracting new tenants. Buildings are now being let and sold on their “active travel credentials” (in addition to the obvious location and rent criteria), which is motivating developers to keep raising the bar for EOTs.

So it goes without saying that quality matters, but so does quantity – according to the BCO, “The quantity debate has been won and higher ratios are being both demanded and provided.” 22 Bishopsgate is a stellar case study featured in the report demonstrating this point: building owners AXA IM spared no expense with their EOT facilities providing 1,700 bike spaces, 75 showers, 1300 lockers, 50 accessible spaces, dedicated e-bike spaces, ground floor entry, and more, attracting major tenants like Apple, and Hiscox.

As the UK Real Estate & Design Chair of BCO Occupier Group, James Ainsworth put it: “It is not just about ratios of bike storage and lockers; that is a given. The focus now needs to be on the quality of the environment and the services provided around the changing facilities and bike storage. For example, towel services, consumables, bike repair equipment and repair management on site.”

Design Reigns King

It’s worth reiterating that quality matters. On a very basic level, humans are creatures of comfort. Those of us not lucky enough to have beautiful, inspiring, and comfortable bike rooms and change rooms to show up to after our active commute will likely continue working from home as long as possible. Building owners have to give us a reason to come back and what better way to do this than by sprucing up the space(s) where a majority of your tenants begin their work day.

Check out our gallery of projects that Five at Heart has delivered around the world for inspiration. It is encouraging to learn, then, that since the BCO’s first report in 2017, there has been a marked improvement in the quality and design of EOT facilities, with “gym-grade cycling facilities” now becoming the norm in Grade A office buildings.

The most exciting change noted in the report is the prominence of ground level points of entry for these facilities, where previously the majority of cycling facilities were relegated to the most unappealing spaces in the building (i.e. below ground). What’s more, according to the BCO’s survey, “43% of landlords plan on increasing the prominence of bicycle facilities within their office space.”

Learn more about designing better bike parking and change rooms with our handy pocket guide.

The Future is Flexible

While we all would like to go back to “normal” we all understand that there is a new normal when it comes to working these days. Flexibility is at the heart of this and has been a focus for innovative spaces in a post-pandemic world. The most obvious example where flexibility matters is in the change room where traditionally, a 50/50 split between men’s and women’s facilities has been laid out. The actual breakdown of these spaces is typically never exactly 50%, especially when we analyze the usage throughout the day. If we step outside the box, however, and look at all the ways in which flexibility can be integrated into our buildings, we start to see more achievable (and inclusive) designs.

Going back to the quality and quantity debate – planning policy has been criticized for not being based in reality when it comes to actual demand for cycling facilities leading to oversupply (read: wasted space). The solution here is implementing a phased approach where certain spaces designed to be used for cycling facilities can serve a different (yet similar) purpose in the interim while capacity is not up to speed. Once demand starts to pick up, the space can be turned over in a matter of weeks. This flexibility allows building owners and investors to meet requirements while avoiding loss of space, therefore fully optimizing their buildings.

“Planning guidelines are important and should be based on evidence to prevent both under- and over‑provision, so it’s vital that we measure actual use of cycling facilities.”  – Peter Williams, Senior Advisor – Technical Design, Stanhope.

The Future is Active

Cycling numbers in the UK have been increasing, year over year, and the pandemic just expedited this trend. Those of you living in London don’t need to be told that during morning rush hour, roughly 70% of vehicles on some main roads [in Central London] are bicycles.

“In Manchester, as many bicycle journeys were made each day as on the region’s Metrolink tram system. What’s more, the funding of cycling infrastructure has skyrocketed, and we have the pandemic to thank for that. British parliament committed £2 billion to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in 2020, by May 2021: “Over £320 million was provided to local authorities through the Emergency Active Travel Fund…[and] over 100 miles of new segregated cycling lanes were delivered, including 60 miles in London alone. £20 million was also provided via the Access Fund to allow local authorities to deliver a wide range of programmes to get more people walking and cycling, including educational opportunities.”

It won’t come as a shock, then, that 97% of landlords and building owners interviewed recognize the need for ETO facilities is growing at a rapid rate and will only continue to grow. The United Kingdom is definitely not the only country experiencing this shift – no matter where you are in the world, if you want a world class bike room and change room, contact us.

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