Thinking big about smaller offices
How must offices in a post Covid-19 world adapt to play their part in restoring vibrant life to our city centres? There are 5 lessons to learn.
In an earlier post, I spoke about what we’d like to see to encourage businesses and people back to Newcastle City Centre and its close neighbourhoods. Most of the things I spoke about are not within our gift. However, we recognise that businesses like ours – responsible for office space – have a part to play. How must The Racquets Court begin thinking big about smaller offices, to meet the changing demand for space.
What has changed?
In the past 12 months, we (and most of the planet) have learned how to work from home.
We know what we like about it and what we don’t. We know what we miss and what we do not. We’ve solved some problems and not others.
The genie is out of the bottle. It will not be put back.
We are not certain what all of these lessons are, but these are some that we are working with. We must:
- combine the best of ‘home’ with the best of the office
- tempt people with ensuring that the frustrations they ‘probably’ encounter at home will never be ecountered at the office
- recognise that it will be the norm, not the exception, for people to combine working from home with working at the office
- ensure that the safety from infection that people feel at home are replicated to the fullest extent possible at the office
- work with the knowledge that the pressure for employees to work from home, some of the time, will come from their employers.
The best of home PLUS the best of the office / compensating for the frustrations of working at home
The evidence suggests that, where home is comfortable, people enjoy working there. That phrase ‘where home is comfortable’ however is a big one.
There is an obvious connection between how well off someone is and the degree to which they find working at home comfortable. More than this, the better paid will find it easier to afford the additional costs of working at home. Although homeworkers save on travel (and on clothes that are worn below the waist), outside the South East, this may not compensate for the greater costs incurred for utilities.
There are other issues. ‘Before Covid-19’, home was big enough, now it is not. The desk chair used for brief periods before Covid-19 was OK; sitting on it now for hours at a time, it’s killing my back. Before Covid-19, the table was OK for brief periods of work; as a desk, the table is too small. And ‘my table’ has not before been used so extensively for work; my table is my metaphor for the difficulty of separating home from work. Where does one stop and the other start? Before Covid-19, this was relatively easy to distinguish; today it is much harder.
Connectivity? OK for my personal use; Zooming and Teamsing all day is entirely different. And my partner is on it too – it won’t cope.
The psychological impact of Zooming and Teamsing
Microsoft has largely found itself missing out on the plethora of slang associated with the harms associated with video conferencing. We have ‘Zoom Gloom’ and ‘Zoom Fatigue’. The slang does however mask real concerns about the psychological impact of the exccessive use of this technology.
So we should assume that employers who care about their people will wish to reduce the use of Zoom and Teams by bringing them back into an office – at least for part of the week.
Playing our part – tempting people back to a Newcastle City Centre office.
We have to be comfy. We’re not ‘home’ but we can be a great alternative. You will not get a bad back sitting at your desk (because the chairs have won design awards in Germany and the USA). The desks are amply sized, screened and with nifty pull away tops to hide the wires. They are made in Yorkshire. The office will be quiet because the carpet is designed to insulate you from office noise.
The coffee won’t run out, because it’s locally sourced and delivered. When the building is full, you’ll be able to reach into the fruit bowl and grab an orange or an apple, sourced from Grainger Market. You’ll never have to wait for the kettle to boil or for the tap to run cold because boiling and chilled water is on tap. And your space will be clean – because we clean it every night. (And we employ our own cleaners – on excellent terms and conditions).
These luxury features have guided us from the beginning; we have always wanted to be thinking big about smaller offices.
We will be flexible with space – desk space and meeting space
You will probably not want space every day of the week. We will therefore offer you space when you need it. If you need desk space for only 0ne or two days a week – then we will make that possible. If you need one desk one week and two every other week – we’ll accomodate that too. If you need to meet others in the middle of the night – well, that OK because the building is 24/7.
We recognise also that this way of working is unlikely to reduce the Zoom or Teams load. This is because not all of your people will be together at the same time. So we will make our meeting spaces more flexibly available. Before Covid-19, meeting room were bookable for a minimum of half day. We will reduce this to 2 hours for those outside The Racquets Court; for members, we will reduce this to one hour.
And of course, you do not have to worry about connectivity. The Racquets Court is one of the very few buildings connected to Stellium’s Metro Network. We have a Gigabit carrier and 200 Mb up AND down. Every desk has a wired connection and there are 3 wireless networks in the building. If you need extra security, then we can offer your own connectivity the Metro Network.
Covid-19 has not disappeared. The Racquets Court must be safe
Currently, desks are socially distanced; we have reduced the capacity of our cafe area.
We have installed a facial recognition, no touch, temperature scanner. We anticipate that everyone entering The Racquets Court will wish to ‘scan in’.
There is a hand sanitisation station at the entrance to the building and all sinks are stocked with Arran Aromatics luxury hand wash and hand cream. Regular handwashing and sanitising is drying out our hands. It is very important therefore to moisturise them.
Additionally, The Racquets Court has a sophisticated air circulation system. It does not have air conditioning. The system continuously draws fresh, filtered air into the building and pushes out the air from inside. Therefore, you can feel confident that the air you breathe is as fresh as possible and filtered.
Our system is also more environmentally friendly than air conditioning, helping to protect our planet as well as our people.
The Racquets Court also has a self-opening glass roof for maximum fresh air. And of course, it has rain sensors so it closes automatically when the weather turns.
Cycling to The Racquets Court
Many of us are avoiding public transport and cycling. Newcastle City Council is promoting this of course with more cycle lanes. The Racquets Court has secure bike storage. And there are luxury showers to freshen up (Arran Aromatics toiletries provided).
Making the home / office balance work for all
If you are running a business, and you’ve downsized your office needs, we assume that you will wish to devote resource towards making your people feel as though their home / office balance works in their favour. This is about your business thinking big about smaller offices.
If you can get it right, if your people feel that they can get the best of both worlds (comfort, ease, frustration-free, hygiene factors satisfied), then employee satisfaction will be high and productivity will increase.
And the cost to you is predictable; there will NO additional costs except for those you ask for such as a meeting room for an hour or two.
If you are an employee, then going to the office should be an appropriate alternative for everything that working from home might offer. And perhaps that should include the odd additional trinket that you might not get at home. This might capture some of the things mentioned above, but also easy access to John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Fenwick, a drink after work in a City Centre pub, followed by a trip to the cinema or theatre.
This is what we mean by thinking big about smaller offices
In my last post on this subject, I talked about Newcastle’s ‘bit’ – those things over which we have no control which make our City attractive. This post has been about our ‘bit’
Our ‘bit’ is the offer of luxurious office space in the centre of our City which people will WANT to work in. The future appears to be that many of us will wish to combine working from home and at the office; we believe that The Racquets Court can be ‘the offfice’ that makes this combination work to the benefit of businesses and the people who work in them.