Almost a year ago, Montagu Evans signed a lease for new offices, heralding our centenary year with a move from five storeys in Mayfair to an open-plan space with 360-degree views in the City of London.
Our aim was to be closer to our clients, more accessible for our teams and to create spaces where we could collaborate on shared projects in a more creative way.
It is another step forward in a cultural shift that has been taking place across the business over the past few years: a move to sector-specialist teams that bring together different minds, locations and skillsets centred around what our clients need.
Like everyone else, we have been affected by Covid-19, but if there is a silver lining from the past nine months it has been the opportunity to define more clearly what our office space is for – and to equip everyone for the changes it will bring when we move in next month.
Engagement and small-scale testing had already taken us a long way. We knew that our office was always about more than desk space: people valued the mentoring and learning from others that is central to our partnership ethos, as well as space for meetings and events.
We also knew that the move to neighbourhood groupings would work – people sitting with experts in similar industries working with complementary clients. The potential for a greater exchange of views and insight is immense.
Places for chance encounters are also factored in. We’ve seen how unexpected conversations over a cup of coffee spark new ideas, so we’ve created more opportunities for that to happen.
During the first lockdown, we surveyed the whole firm to help us understand the range of circumstances our people contend with. People who were house sharing needed more physical space, others needed to fit around family and caring commitments and it became common – in a very positive way – to see pets, partners and children behind the camera.
We understand even better now that our people are all individuals with different needs, and our approach has been to create a wide range of spaces to suit them – from the hubbub of a coffee bar to the quiet of a library or wellbeing room.
Unnecessary layers have been stripped back. There will be no desk ownership, something that has been firmly broken by weeks of working at home or in our Covid-safe former offices.
What we have learnt, though, is that guidelines are needed on working practices to set a clear framework for everyone. In a new world where presenteeism is a thing of the past, we need to be mindful of our impact on our colleagues – where does one person’s flexibility impact another’s need for downtime?
Finally, we know we need to keep evolving. We will continue to embrace the benefits more agile working can bring, and that means continued investment in IT and learning and development to ensure we support this change and continue to upskill and embrace modern working practices. New habits and a fresh approach will lead the way for a sustainable, well-balanced future in this new space.
Victoria Thompson is head of HR at Montagu Evans