It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the world of work will be changed forever by the pandemic. But while no one expects a return to traditional ways of working, opinions are divided about what the workspace of the future will look like.
The conventional wisdom is that when restrictions lift, most people will choose to split their work time between home and office. But that betrays a lack of imagination and a failure to grasp the true impact of what we’re going through. The much-vaunted hybrid model of working will not be a binary choice; it will be something bigger, broader and altogether more profound.
The question is, what does this new future look like? One thing is certain – this topic will dominate the boardroom of all companies. The most progressive employers are taking action quickly to drive change.
Firstly, the concept of the physical office as a core part of an organisation’s brand and operating model will not disappear. In many respects the role of the office will grow, but it will become more intentional in its design and purpose. Progressive organisations will need to offer employees more. A model based on supervision and oversight is giving way to one based on autonomy and trust. The familiar patterns of office life are important, but they will sit alongside a new world of employee-centred choice.
The Office Group (TOG) was founded in 2003 with a mission to reinvent the office space market and improve the way people work. Today, TOG is the leading design-led provider of flexible workspaces, with more than 50 buildings across the UK and Germany. Nearly 20,000 members call TOG home.
What is different about TOG is that unlike the majority of real estate providers, we are not simply a portfolio of individual office buildings. We are a cohesively designed platform of over 2.2 million sq ft of workspace – some of which is office space, but also gyms, yoga studios, meeting rooms, lounges, screening rooms, meditation rooms, cafés, bars, roof gardens and event spaces. If you are one of our members, you can have an office in one of our buildings, access multiple locations within the TOG platform, or use a mixture of the two. Having a workspace at TOG gives you access to so much more than just an office.
So how does this translate? In London, we have more than 40 buildings, in locations from Canary Wharf to Hammersmith. Whether your office is part of TOG or not, we think it will be critical for employers to provide access to a wider platform of spaces for employees to work. Team meetings, creative problem-solving, client presentations, one-to-ones, site visits, quality thinking time, content generation, relaxing and unwinding… each of these tasks may be best performed in a different setting and a different location depending on the needs of the employee, the client or the team. Employers that offer this kind of dynamic working model will have a big head start in the future battle for talent.
We designed our platform to offer this choice, as we fundamentally believe – even before COVID – that the future of work is flexible. Underpinning this is choice and ease.
A shift like this requires companies to look long and hard at their employee value proposition, to evolve their approach to real estate and select the right partners to work with to drive this shift. Traditionally, larger corporates have used flexible office space to solve short-term tactical problems, rather than as part of the strategic management of people and assets. The pandemic is forcing a reappraisal and accelerating the need for the flexible office market to evolve so that it can serve the needs of larger corporates.
That requires a service culture rooted in deep real estate expertise – a ‘best of both worlds’ proposition that marries sophisticated account management capability with a modern, agile approach to structuring solutions and service agreements. The sophistication required by the flexible sector must be matched with maturity and understanding of the needs of its customers in a way it hasn’t before.
At TOG, we are already trialling this new approach with a number of corporates, from providing a new model for key offices through to the creation of a dispersed campus of locations across London that augments a large HQ. These pilots are allowing these companies to gather the data they need to best define their working practices.
The scale and agility of the TOG platform are steadily attracting more and more big employers, including BP. The energy giant has leased Douglas House, a 50,000 sq ft property that will provide a new hub for the company’s venturing, digital and mobility futures teams, providing 700 desks for 1,000 employees and including a barista bar operated by Caravan and a state-of-the-art gym operated by Manor, as well as a roof garden and event space.
The hub will bring together technology- and innovation-focused teams who are currently spread across different London locations. It will provide adaptable and digitally enabled workspaces and allow teams either to work flexibly or collaborate in the same location to encourage creativity and innovation. As part of their TOG membership, BP staff will have access to the entire TOG platform, including coworking spaces, video conferencing booths, tech-enabled meeting rooms and event spaces.
Companies such as BP, Ocado, GSK and a slew of high-profile tech firms are working with TOG to lead the charge towards a more progressive way of working. Even before the pandemic struck, these businesses were embracing a future that offers much more than a binary choice between home and office, adapting their employer proposition to meet the evolving needs of their people.
Change in working practices is not new, and different companies have been exploring different strategies for decades. The pandemic, however, has changed the paradigm of what is expected from the employer by the employee. Companies that don’t pick up the pace and embrace this shift in ways of working will be left behind.
Toby Ogden is Chief Commercial Officer at The Office Group