For July’s Roundtable we partnered with Interaction to bring together a fabulous group of employers to talk about the future of the post-Covid Workspace, how teams are choosing to return to the office, and what people are now looking for in their office and communal spaces that is different to the pre Covid days.
We brought together organisations working within the Tech industries from Bristol & Bath who are growing rapidly, often even outgrowing their current spaces, to get their views and experiences, and also gathered some brilliant property & design experts from the area to get a more general idea of what they’re seeing in the market and how this fits together.
The post-Covid workspace attendees
- Ben Shorrock, (host) Managing Director TechSPARK, UKTCG Steering Board
- Hayley Blacker, Director at Interaction
- Chris Dyson, Partner and Head of Technology, Ashfords
- Victoria Purdon, Head of Wellbeing and People Happiness, Ultraleap
- Andy Rogers, Co CEO at Amdaris
- Lucy Roper, Office Manager at Immersive Labs
- Richard Roberts, People Director at Pure Planet
- James Routley, COO at Rocketmakers
- Phil Morton, Director at Morton Property Consultants
How quickly are people returning to the post-Covid workspace?
We kicked off the conversation with a general talk about returning to the office and what are the main inhibiting factors.
As expected for some companies, particularly where there needs to be a lot of collaboration between product or design teams, coming back to the office has felt important, so companies are having to ensure that teams and individuals feel comfortable to come in as there’s naturally still a lot of anxiety around this.
In product and design environments it feels important
Andy Rogers says of Amdaris : ‘ What we found as a high scale, high growth company, that sense of being able to come together and collaborate and whiteboard is something that’s really important to us.
Our encouragement is that if you feel comfortable and in no way anxious about coming in, then please do – as we want to collaborate, we want to work together. But of course we’re still being very sensitive to the fact that there’s still a lot of anxiety and fear of the unknown out there.
Victoria Purdon from UltraLeap : We phased our return plan from now until Sept and we’ve been grading our office capacity to keep people safe. We have bolstered a lot of mental health and stress support around easing people in and returning them to the office. We also feel strongly about the sense of collaboration and information transfer that happens so much quicker when your face to face than it has done online’
Rich from Pure Planet comments “Our mantra is ‘work where you work best’ – and through the surveys that we’ve done we think that 80% of people will be coming in two or three days a week”
In professional services maybe less so
Chris from Ashfords explained that from a professional services perspective they were quick to get people out of the office at the beginning of the pandemic and have not rushed to get people back in. Partially he says because of the type of work they do.
“We don’t have lots of developers who need high powered desktops and so supplying kits out to everybody was a key early movement on our part, and we have since supplied a working from home budget so that everyone is set up in both environments. So now we are neither discouraging or encouraging people to return to work, and people can make their own choice, but recently office use has started to increase”
The effect of demographics
Some companies noted that sometimes willingness to return can depend on age, and surprisingly companies have found that the younger generations who they expected not to want to come to the office, are in fact those that are keenest to return
”If your average age is 25 or less, you’re more likely to be in shared accommodation, and perhaps more ambitious, you want to get mentored, you want to socialise. The mindset is more about wanting to mingle” Phil Morton
Which results in more of them wanting to return to the office. Whereas the older workers who perhaps have a nice house in the country and a longer commute are less likely.
James Routley disagrees stating that feels a bit of a simplistic view, as for Rocketmakers “While we have quite a mixed set of ages, it’s been more about individual circumstances. We have people who have got very young kids, people who have partners that are shielding, and people who are just naturally more nervous and resistant to change or who prefer a more consistent set up of tech and therefore don’t want to chop and change.”
What about the buildings themselves – what’s changing?
It was pointed out in order to come back to the Post-Covid workplace, and address people’s natural anxieties, people need to feel comfortable that they’re coming into a safe environment, and as such there are core elements of the physical space that have needed to be addressed, such as air conditioning and access to fresh air and open meeting spaces.
“What we’re seeing in the office market is people’s emphasis on flexibility, not just physically and contractually, but in terms of the wellness piece. How good are these offices at getting fresh air in? A lot of the new builds are being built with air conditioning, but also with the ability to open the window, which wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago. So the design of the new office buildings going forward is very much taking this all into account, We’re going full circle” Phil Morton says.
The way we commute is also having to change due to Covid as people are most anxious about getting public transport, however many city centre buildings currently being built are completely without parking, and the cities don’t have the infrastructure to cope with the traffic. Scooters and cycling are now top of the agenda, with more traffic on the roads now than we even had pre covid.
“The importance of wellbeing is enormous now. I’m having more arguments about how many locker spaces and designated cycle spaces my clients are going to get than I ever did, and it’s a really really big issue” Phil Morton
‘The rest of us that are happy to use trains are having a really nice comfy ride!’ James Routley points out.
How is the way we’re using our spaces changing?
It’s something that’s been changing over time anyway in some environments where having a permanent desk is not critical, however it feels like there is more focus than ever on making work spaces that are different, varied and more collaborative.
Hayley Blacker from Interaction says “Spaces now need more focus areas, as well as collaborative spaces for private calls and the all-important collaborative moments alike. It’s more than giving people desk space as no longer will many come in to sit at the desk 100% of the day, but to meet and be with colleagues. Giving people access to all types of spaces, as well as desk space when they need it is important. Even for some of the finance and admin teams that have traditionally been allocated desk space because they are in all the time, it’s now been proved for some businesses that that role can also work from home. The look, feel and importantly wellbeing provided from the space is also important. Space is changing and people want lots of choice, want to feel productive, and to leave the office having had a positive working day.”
Phil Morton feels that going into the office now has to be more about the experience “Low margin businesses have noticed they can save on the bottom line by having more remote working, whereas the high margin business where they’re all about culture and values are looking to spend more money and have a lot lower density to have that feeling like when you walk into a really nice hotel. It gives the staff the feeling it’s a nice place to work in and make them want to come in”
“We’ve certainly been focussing on the social spaces, where people can have those key collaborative moments”
Lucy Roper from Immersive Labs agrees “We’ve certainly been focussing on the social spaces, where people can have those key collaborative moments, but without us being pushy about it. We want people to have that moment where they walk away and think ‘this is really nice, it’s been really good spending a day in the office’. And we’re using our office in a more social way than previously, to make it a nice place to be’
Rich from Pure Planet “We’ve recruited over 90 people in the last 12 months taking our employee base to 180, and we’ve only got 90 desks. So for us we’re thinking ‘what is the purpose of an office’ and we’ve come to the conclusion that the reason for going into the office is for collaboration. People are not going to go in and sit there and do there zoom calls, or just work at a desk and not talk to anyone else as they can do that at home. So our whole emphasis is around collaboration. We will be moving to hot desking, because we have to, but we also think it’s a good thing.”
So it sounds like the focus as we hopefully progress towards the end of the pandemic will very much be on wellbeing, collaboration and collaborative spaces, and of course adaptability from both employers and staff.
Andy from Amdaris concludes “Flexibility is the key for us. We are keeping an open mind. As things develop and once the pandemic starts to wane truly across the world we will take stock of the situation. Until then we’ll just keep a very open, flexible mind.”