In our recent webinar on London workspace in 2021, we were joined by Beth Toms, head of people at tiney and former workplace lead at Monzo; Sam Dawson, head of flexible office transactions at Kontor; Gavin Kamara, head of leasing at Kontor; and our own Michael Cockburn to find out how the pandemic has (and hasn’t) changed the workspace market, the mistakes to avoid and the wealth of options out there for scaling companies.
Along the way we also heard about the new hub and spoke model, the way landlords are adapting to tenant demands and exploding toilets (Monzo’s first office sounds...interesting).
1. The response to the pandemic has changed things
While 2020 was a pretty grim year for the world, there have been some benefits brought about by working remotely.
Beth told us to hold on to the positives that had come out of this when planning for the future. She talked about speaking to those team members who had lived too far away to work out of the London office pre-pandemic. “They were telling me, ‘I feel included. I feel like we’re on the same page again now we’re in lockdown.’ and ‘I’ve never felt so much part of this company.’ Clearly something wasn’t working before.”
She reminded us: “Don’t underestimate how much the pandemic has changed people’s behaviours and expectations about office space. Throw out the rulebook and be brave about making big decisions.”
Michael echoed this, stressing that although various lockdowns have been hard on the real estate industry, “the evolution that will come out the other end will be more human centric and better for employees.”
2. Make a decision sooner rather than later
Although it can be tempting during a time of uncertainty to hold off making decisions on workspace, this may have a negative effect on other parts of the business.
Beth stressed the importance of making a decision as soon as practicable, particularly for scaling businesses, saying, “The sooner you know what kind of model you are going for the more you can design the company around it and ensure that people feel included.”
This decision has an impact on so many other parts of the business, from internal communications and data security to people policies and getting the right equipment to the right people. If you are hiring abroad, there’s also tax implications and contracts to consider as well.
3. The office isn’t over
The past year has certainly proved that most people need some sort of in-person interaction.
Sam said that very few of their clients were doing away with office space entirely. Instead they were often relying on the office (or offices), as a place for meetings, events and maintaining company culture.
Michael stressed that this was not the end of the permanent office, saying that some companies will always need a space that they can completely control, with their own branding. “What has changed is the jackets-over-the-back-of-the-chair presenteeism culture. For people to be present, they don’t have to be in the same physical space.”
4. It’s an occupier-friendly market
Partly because of the pandemic, but also because serviced offices have challenged their share of the market, landlords are providing a lot more to their tenants. Sometimes this means they provide features you’d be more likely to see in a serviced office at a leased one.
Sam talked about how there are now often multiple routes to taking the same property, as the lines between flex and leased space have blurred. In addition, some landlords are able to come to the arrangement of allowing you to “pay as you grow”.
Gavin gave the example of one of their clients who currently employ 250 people but plan to grow to 400 in three years. They want a home for the next five to ten years and an office space they can put their stamp on. A few years ago they’d have had the option to either take space big enough for their 400 future staff and hope to sub-lease it or rent a smaller space and move as the company grew.
But nowadays they are able to take an office in a larger building than they currently need. They only pay for space for their current staff and the landlord rents out the rest of the space as serviced offices. In three years, when their company has grown, they’ll be able to take over the whole building.
5. There are more options than ever before
As Sam said, there are “big opportunities” for occupiers right now. In addition to landlords being more accommodating, there’s also a range of different workspace models.
Hub and spoke is one of models that has a lot of buzz around it. The idea is that there is a central office (the hub) as well as a network of offices (the spokes) that may serve different parts of the business and be closer to where staff live.
“This maybe works for really big companies where there are more detached parts of the business,” said Sam. In their experience, not that many companies are going for it.
Instead they are opting for what Sam called “the new Hub and Spoke”. Companies instead take a central office and then use an app like Desana (thanks for the plug!) to provide the spoke element.
6. Your space won’t ever be full
It’s well known that most office space goes underutilized - which is a big problem if you don’t have limitless amounts of money.
Beth advised people making decisions on workspace to find some way to understand your space utilization. She recalled how she’d painstakingly calculated the amount of square footage every staff member needed when at Monzo - only to find that the space was never full. She advised using a space access system to find out how your staff actually use the space.
Less office space will be used in the wake of the pandemic, with many having gotten used to working from home and with many companies opting to adopt hybrid working. Sam estimated that 90% of their clients are opting for a rotation or part-remote model, reducing the amount of space they take (and as a result the money they spend).
7. Don’t commit to a long-term lease before you are ready
With so many options open to occupiers, growing businesses should be careful about committing to a long-term lease if they don’t have a clear idea of the future.
Beth warned: “Don’t make any long-term decisions until you have strong product market fit and stability.” Sam added that you might want to consider a licence from a flexible workspace provider if you don’t want to commit for more than two years and you have a fluctuating headcount.
Reasons for going for a long-term lease, according to Gavin, were having full control over the space, from a legal, operational and design point of view, as well as the reduced costs over the long-term.
8. How Desana is helping companies
Beth also talked about the reasons tiney decided to get rid of their office space and use Desana. Pre-pandemic, staff had had access to office space in Old Street in Clerkenwell. But the space was hardly being used and only accommodated those in London (tiney have staff across the UK and even one person in Australia).
They found that remote working during the pandemic meant that everyone in the team felt on the same page. However, they didn’t want to go fully remote. “We knew the importance of face-to-face time and wanted the best of both worlds,” said Beth. Desana was therefore an obvious solution, allowing teams to work together and allowing them to only pay for the space they actually use.
Michael added that choosing workspace on the basis that it is better for your people is traditionally overlooked in property. “Even pre-pandemic there was a movement towards giving people more choice. Now those who want to retain the best talent will do so by giving them flexibility,” he said.
The challenge is around providing that choice at scale, in different markets, locations and countries - and how to keep doing that as your company grows and its workspace needs change.
That’s where Desana comes in. “Can you be evolving your strategy around the needs of the people who work for you - and can Desana help you do that?” he concluded.
If you’d like to see for yourself how Desana works, get in touch here.