Project Synopses

Built for sustainability

As part of our ongoing work around sustainability with our student and alumni community, and our Alumni Lifelong Influencing Plan (ALIP), we have launched Project Synopses’. We aim to highlight the incredible work done by our students as part of their final-year projects and understand their perspectives on the themes presented.

The Project Synopses’ are a condensed version of the original pieces of work and all efforts have been made to retain the original ideas, research and conclusions.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the flexible office market aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) in London.

Is working from home (WFH) a temporary phenomenon or here to stay?

By Lauren Garré, MSc Real Estate (2021)

For her final year project, Lauren investigated the effects of COVID-19 on the flexible office market and provided insight into the longevity of these impacts. She specifically looked at SMEs in London.

Lauren reviewed quantitative data, supplied by her employer, to measure the changes in enquiries, viewings, lettings and rent roll over a three-year period. She also conducted interviews with three occupiers of flexible workspaces to understand how the pandemic had affected their businesses and how they would adapt going forward.

Lauren’s findings highlighted that despite an initial decline in enquiries, viewings and letting numbers in April 2020, there was still an appetite for flexible office spaces in London. Businesses valued the sense of community that came with an office but also recognised that with technological advancements, enabling employees to work from home (WFH) would allow them to attract and retain the best people. This ongoing demand for office space meant that there was an opportunity for the flexible office market to remain resilient against external factors.


1. What made you pick this topic for your final year project?

I think it can be quite daunting to pick a topic but once you do, it gets much easier to get into it. I actually delayed my project in 2019 and then once again in 2020 due to Covid until 2021. My original plan was quite different but with the circumstances, this new topic felt like the best route for me, especially with the access I had to that market. Taking into consideration the industry I work in, I knew I would have easier access to the resources I needed for my research. I was also influenced by the fact that we were going through the pandemic at the time and experiencing the market being affected by people working from home.

2. What do you think the impact of your project and its topic is almost three years later?

From a personal point of view, the market is nowhere near as negative as I thought it was going to be. Overall things are pretty much back to normal, particularly in the built environment. Just on a flexible basis. I do often think back to the interviews I did with clients and look at how they’ve changed or transitioned.

3. How did you find the process of conducting your research and writing your project with your supervisor?

My supervisor, Graeme Whitehall, was really helpful in guiding me throughout the process and suggesting areas that I needed to look at. The process was a lot more manageable than I originally thought it would be. Of course, at the time I found it intense but looking back I really enjoyed the whole experience.

4. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to students at the beginning of their final year project journey?

Pick something you enjoy! Choose a topic that is going to hold your attention throughout the process and that you will be interested in continuing to research. Also, do the work little and often rather than trying to complete it in large chunks.


In March 2020, the United Kingdom found itself in a ‘forced experiment on a mass scale’ as everyone with the ability to WFH was instructed to by the government (Property Visions, 2020). The needs and wants of office workers before and after the pandemic had been previously investigated in a survey by Savills, where it was discovered that 89% of respondents still believed that the office would remain an essential part of life, despite there being an increase in employees wanting to WFH more often (Savills, 2020).

Flexible office providers occupied over 21% of office space in 2017 in central London alone, equating to over 10 million square feet (Cushman & Wakefield, 2018). This had increased from just under 4 million square feet in 2007. In 2019, this figure was reported to be 23% (Savills 2020), indicating that the flexible office sector had been accelerating in recent years, despite there being some uncertainty in the market due to Brexit (Passino 2016).

Data gathered from market reports was useful in determining the level of market transactions in a given period, which showed that there was a need for more focused research on the flexible office market to fully understand the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, the data available on WFH was limited, requiring further research and analysis.

The Project

To answer her research questions, Lauren decided to take a mixed-method approach to this project, looking at both quantitative primary source data as Anonymous Employer Performance Data (AEPD) and Anonymous Employer Survey Data (AESD), and qualitative data through interviews with flexible office occupiers.

The data collected from the AEPD specified enquiry levels, number of viewings conducted, number of lettings conducted, occupancy levels, rent roll from January 2018 – December 2020, and the AESD for 2021. The employer who supplied the information was a public limited company that owned 60 business centres across London, leasing offices and studio spaces to approximately 3000 SMEs across 4 million square feet. The AESD reviewed 904 responses, which was a 30% response rate.

Lauren conducted virtual 30-minute semi-structured interviews with three tenants based within the employer’s business centres, all of whom held a senior or influential role within their organisation. A total of 12 interview questions were split into five categories and designed to break down the questions and answers for the benefit of the interviewees and analysis.

By combining the quantitative data trends with the qualitative research findings, Lauren was able to use both approaches to ensure that the triangulation of the two data sources provided the most robust research possible with the time and resources available (Bhattacharjee, 2012).


Lauren’s review of the AEPD suggested that despite an initial drop in April 2020, the demand for flexible office space in London existed. This demand was further demonstrated by the stability of the tenant base, which showed an overall loss in rent roll of only 7%, but with 3% of new tenants gained. However, rents were reported to be lower compared to previous years and would indicate that income would continue to reduce until the market stabilised.

Enquiry and viewing levels steadily increased, showing that companies were looking to take advantage of the deals available and found flexibility to be an added benefit. This presented a significant opportunity for the flexible office sector to show resilience and flourish by capturing the demand from businesses that wanted to continue with a hybrid model.

When reviewing the AESD, Lauren focused on two of the questions that explored time spent working from home. She found that most sectors planned to continue a hybrid way of working more than they did pre-COVID-19, and the majority of this would be two days at home with the rest being office-based. Additionally, the size of the business did not have an impact on WFH, except in the case of the smallest business with 1-3 employees. Businesses with 4 to 50+ employees all stated that they would WFH more often than before COVID-19 with the range of results between 64% and 79%. Only 37% of businesses with 1-3 employees said they would WFH more going forward, with a much higher percentage of this category foreseeing no change. This correlated with the increase in demand for flexible working practices presented in the literature review (Savills, 2020).

Through analysing the interviews conducted by way of coding (Neuman, 2013) and grounded theory (Bhattacherjee, 2012), Lauren determined that three key themes emerged:

Theme 1

Identify the impacts of COVID-19 and wider cultural shifts:

Theme 1 was generated by showing how quickly businesses adapted to the pandemic and ensured they remained successful. All three interviewees stated that they experienced a positive impact on their businesses during the pandemic. Lauren notes that the literature review (JLL 2018; JLL 2019; JLL 2020; Savills 2020) and AEPD (Anon. 2021) expressed an initial decline in enquiries and office contracts, so it was interesting to see that this had not been felt by the SMEs.

Theme 2

Explore whether the impacts are a temporary phenomenon or part of a wider structural change:

Theme 2 aimed to obtain the interviewees’ opinions on whether the impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses were temporary or part of a new way of working. All interviewees found no reason to return to being office-based five days a week and would be adopting a hybrid model. Lauren found this to be in line with the literature review which found that advancements in technology (Harpaz 2002; Baruch 2000) and employee demand (Savills 2020; Shackleton 2021) were the real catalysts for hybrid working.

Theme 3

If WFH is here to stay, what might the implications be for the flexible office sector in London:

The final theme of the interviews aimed to determine what the increase in hybrid working would mean for the flexible office sector. All three interviewees felt that having an office was vital for their business, which was in line with the 89% of people who believed the office concept was here to stay (Savills, 2020). Despite each business deciding to keep its offices, the data suggested that the physical office space was becoming more of a symbolic meeting place, which gave a company its identity. It was highly probable that businesses would reduce capacity and hot desking would become the norm, allowing the flexible office sector to flourish. This supported the results found in the AEPD (2021).

Opportunities for further research

Lauren’s investigation was based on the effects of COVID-19, which was a brand-new phenomenon at the time, and was based on a cross-sectional moment in time as the pandemic had not yet come to an end at the point where the research was concluded. This meant that previous research on the topic was limited, and any long-term effects were still to be identified.

Lauren has suggested that while her research was conducted specifically among SMEs in the flexible London office market, further research can be conducted in other cities, both nationally and internationally. She also recommends that future research looks into other sectors and business sizes in the market, to provide further insight and understanding into the market as a whole.


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Are British homes prepared for the harsher effects of climate change in the future?

By Vijayadhanushan (Dan) Vijayanathan, MSc Building Surveying (2022)

As part of his final year project, Dan selected the topic of understanding whether UK homes in Buckinghamshire are fit for purpose against the rising global temperatures resulting from climate change.

Dan looked at the current housing stock in Buckinghamshire – with a key focus on energy efficiency and usage in new homes – and investigated their suitability to cope with the harsher climate of future Britain.

His findings highlighted that most existing new homes in Buckinghamshire are ill-prepared against harsher climates of the future, particularly due to challenges with indoor air quality and the accelerated decay of building elements – both of which can have a detrimental effect on its occupants and their health.


1. What made you pick this topic for your final year project?

Taking into consideration that I only had about 6 months to carry out the project, I wanted it to be on a topic that I was passionate about and could invest a lot of my time in. I reflected on my student journey and where I what my direction of travel to be in the future and knew I wanted to move into sustainability. As a surveyor, I was also interested in how buildings are being built and wanted to combine both interests.

2. What do you think the impact of your project and its topic is almost two years later?

On a personal level, carrying out this project has really opened my eyes more to sustainability and climate change. At the start of my project, I thought I already had a good level of appreciation and knowledge of sustainability. However, doing the research, particularly the questionnaire element for the project, my existing knowledge base was transformed. I feel doing this project has also made me an advocate of Passivhaus and encouraged those I work with to think about indoor air quality.

3. What are your experiences of sustainability at UCEM?

I loved my experience at UCEM and really valued the opportunity to further my knowledge of sustainability in the research module. Being able to learn from the knowledge and experiences of my supervisors Alejandro and Graeme Whitehall was invaluable. My fellow students were genuinely forthcoming with knowledge and learning, which I found unique to my previous study experience.

4. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to students at the beginning of their final year project journey?

Don’t leave it until the last minute! Take the time to identify your passions, brainstorm topic ideas and start as early as possible when thinking about your project. Don’t forget to chat with the lecturers too!


As the UK becomes more conscious of climate change and sustainability goals over the coming decades, recent meteorological data shows the country’s winters and summers are consistently becoming warmer (MHCLG 2020). The UK Met Office (2021) forecasts that, should global temperatures rise by 4°C, Buckinghamshire may reach as high as 42°C during summers and 20°C in winters.

This increase will certainly have an impact on energy usage when cooling and/or warming homes (Collins et al. 2010). Traditionally built Buckinghamshire homes, including new builds, protect their users against the cold (particularly during winter) and rain (Climate Change Committee 2019). However, the UK has been steadily setting heatwave records over the past two decades (Met Office c.2020).

Speculation suggests that typical UK homes – built using traditional construction – will become unbearably hot during summer, and fabrics of such buildings may face defects/failures due to harsh disparity in climate-related elements (i.e., temperature, humidity/dryness, and precipitation) in the coming years (Beizaee et al. 2013).

Therefore, as the UK Government strategises for reduced energy consumption and net-zero emissions in response to climate change, and with Buckinghamshire on track to deliver its housing stock availability target (Cobbold 2017; Met Office 2021), Dan’s research studies the energy efficiency aspects surrounding new-build homes within Buckinghamshire, and investigates the proportion of stock that is likely to suit the harsher climate of future Britain.

The Project

Dan adopted a ‘mixed methodology’ approach, using existing datasets of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), UK Climate Projections (UKCP), and an online questionnaire dataset. He used Google Maps (2022) and Rightmove (2022) to identify newly built properties.

Dan first obtained data from the online EPC register (GOV.UK no date); gathering 141 randomly selected EPCs across Buckinghamshire and subdividing them into five locations (with town/area noted):

  • Central (Aylesbury)
  • Northwest (Buckingham)
  • Northeast (Milton Keynes)
  • Southeast (Amersham)
  • Southwest (High Wycombe)

The findings illustrated the current and potential energy performance rating of existing new-build homes (below 10 years old), including performance breakdown, primary and estimated use, and environmental impact.

Dan also used data from the UKCP User Interface (UKCP c.2018) which provides UK-focused probabilistic climate projections leading up to the year 2100. As his project primarily concerned itself with the possible failure in alleviating the 1.5°C rise in global temperature, Dan utilised the related datasets, which best estimated (between 5-95%) a global temperature rise of 1.6°C by 2100 compared to the pre-industrial period (Met Office 2018; UKCP c.2018). Naturally, as probabilistic projections are educated speculations, Dan reserved some scepticism over their accuracy.

In addition to the data collated from EPC and UKCP, Dan developed an online questionnaire (containing quantitative and qualitative questions) aimed at Buckinghamshire residents to gauge their opinion on:

  • climate change
  • the environment
  • energy usage/efficiency of new-homes and their homes

The quantitative questions used unipolar Likert-scales, while the qualitative questions searched and categorised keywords and aspects of positive or negative connotations towards the research question. He promoted the anonymous questionnaire via social media (namely LinkedIn and Facebook) and word-of-mouth.


Dan’s findings suggest that Buckinghamshire’s homes are presently ill-prepared to meet future, harsher climate change.

The UKCP trends study on maximum air temperature and five-day total precipitation illustrated that changes are inevitable between now and 2100, with both aspects climbing. The maximum air temperature presents a greater risk to indoor air quality and occupants’ health – particularly due to overheating (Mavrogianni et al. 2017). In contrast, five-day total precipitation, due to increased relative humidity, further accelerates the decay of building elements (Douglas 2011). Irrespectively, the energy usage and efficiency will be impacted by cooling our homes to meet comfortable indoor air quality during warm spells; likewise, by heating the property to reduce potential damp/moisture complications.

The EPC findings outline that existing new homes across Buckinghamshire are generally ‘B’ rated, with only a few falling below a ‘C’ rating. Most homes do have the potential to reach an ‘A’ rating, and this is especially true with most of Buckinghamshire’s conventional houses (particularly detached and semi-detached). However, flats, despite housing a larger number of people compared to houses (although often with the lowest liveable space offered), were restricted to their current rating, with little potential to reach an ‘A’ rating.

The contributing reason for this is largely due to subpar building elements (i.e., walls and windows) compared to conventional houses. Other property types can be retrofitted to better accommodate and become further resilient to maximum air temperature and five-day total precipitation factors. Most homes (discounting usage during/prior to construction), which are currently scored at a ‘B’ rating in primary energy use and CO2 emissions during their lifecycle, have the potential to reach ‘A’ rating through retrofitting.

Dan’s questionnaire found that retrofitting for many in Buckinghamshire is within scope for their property, provided cost-feasibility is viable, with some needing assurance on positive sustainability as opposed to needless use of materials. Additionally, most Buckinghamshire residents are willing to change their lifestyle in favour of future environmental aspects, and will consider retrofitting their homes where feasible, with participants also commenting that new build homes’ standards require improvement.

This discussion largely agrees with the Climate Change Committee (2019) and London Energy Transformation Initiative (2021) on the retrofitting of existing homes and higher-standard future new builds, with energy and emission efficiency of vital importance to prolong homes’ longevity whilst shielding against harsher effects of future climate change. Therefore, by retrofitting and/or building to higher standards (i.e., Passivhaus), aspects of indoor air quality and humidity can be better controlled, presenting potential health benefits to occupants.

Consequently, this research recommends the following:

  • Existing new builds: Further study should be undertaken on retrofitting prospects of existing homes (examining different property types).
  • Future new builds: Should be incentivised and/or imposed to adopt better building standards (e.g., Passivhaus) reducing materials waste, unnecessary CO2 emissions, and transportation during/prior to construction, whilst reducing lifecycle energy and CO2 use.

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