After what seemed like endless months of working remotely and convincing ourselves Zoom calls were us ‘getting together’, being back in offices and experiencing London coming back to life has reminded us what we have been missing.
There were many predictions of the demise of the office over the course of the various lockdowns and, while technically we all managed surprisingly well, it was clear that working from home severely tested our wellbeing and our ability to truly collaborate.
Collaboration is the fundamental purpose of having a shared place of work and is vital to many industries. But for collaboration to work most effectively it needs to be fluid and easy. People having to book a slot for a quick meeting simply creates a barrier, meaning that all too often the conversation just doesn’t happen.
Employees understand this, but the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to people seeing working from home as an attractive alternative to squeezing on to grim public transport, only to then spend eight or more hours in bland and joyless office spaces with flat finishes, harsh lighting and ugly furniture.
So, if employers really do value team spirit and collaboration, we need to make the workplace more attractive and socially engaging than the proverbial spare room, kitchen table or even the well-designed home office in the garden.
Sense of destination
This is where employers, landlords and office developers should learn from the hotel industry, in the way that residential developers did some years ago. Hoteliers understand the need not only for effortless technical performance but also for a sense of destination that feels like part of its context.
Just think of all of those areas in boutique hotels, packed with guests and locals who choose to immerse themselves in their laptops while nursing quality coffee through the working day.
A number of forward-thinking developers had already bought into the idea of creating a ground-floor buzz years before the pandemic. You only need to visit The Hickman in Whitechapel by GPE to appreciate the parallels. However, this does not release tenants from the imperative to bring their own areas up to speed.
During the design of our newly completed studios, our approach has been to create a series of connected spaces that have each been designed to address a particular purpose and, thereby, have their own distinct personality, albeit there are common threads that fluidly tie them together.
This approach enables our team to move around the studio throughout the day to engage with their work and colleagues as their mood or task suits – creating a distinct contrast to the monotony of home working.
Like many others, we have introduced a hybrid working regime where employees can work up to two days a week from home. However, we are encouraged by the team increasingly choosing to come together into the studio rather than staying at home, even on those days. This is a virtuous circle: the more people are in, the greater the buzz, the more people want to come in, the more collaborative we are.
Without doubt, merely returning to a pre-pandemic approach for workplaces is not going to be the way to restore the creative vigour of our cities. Nor will it be the way to address the enormous challenge of attracting and retaining the best talent in this world where people have had plenty of time to readdress their priorities and understand their value.
Tim Bowder-Ridger is principal at Conran & Partners