· Features

Corporate UK has a problem when it comes to work space

We need to think very cleverly about how we work – are we using space and facilities most effectively?

My usual hotel in London was fully booked last week, and so with some trepidation I checked into a smaller place in Holborn. I asked a young jean-clad gentleman at the juice bar-cum-reception if I could check in. “Of course,” he replied. “You paid in advance so I won’t need a credit card. Wi-fi is free – no username, no password. Calls from your room are free to anywhere in the world, and the mini bar contents are on us,” he added as he handed me my key. “Enjoy your stay.” And I certainly did.

But what I found most exhilarating was how the foyer was being used. The space was a mix of cafe, soft seating and long wooden tables – and every inch was occupied by millennials working alongside one another. They had basically created a (free) co-working space in the centre of London, and it had a terrific high-energy buzz that made me want to join them.

And let’s face it – corporate UK has got a problem when it comes to work space. The cost of occupancy in major cities is so high that we have to start thinking very cleverly about how we work. The solution from our US colleagues has been home working. However, many of us find working from home – while convenient – lonely and disconnecting. At the end of the day we are social beings. Work and home lives are blending together more and more, with all of us wanting a degree of flexibility over when and where we work. Longer commuting times and overcrowded public transport mean that travelling to a city-centre work location needs to bring some added benefit beyond the ability to print documents and check in with the team.

So what is the solution? I pondered this question with Charlie Green, co-CEO of the Office Group, a leading UK flexible office space provider. He says: “We’re seeing significant changes in the ways companies are working. Technology is driving these by allowing staff to work in a more fluid, more mobile way. We’re increasingly seeing businesses take advantage of drop-in and shared workspaces, which afford them a professional work environment to share space and facilities with other like-minded people and be more efficient with their working day.”

An example I’ve heard of is a large consultancy which has opened an office for its digital business away from the main London HQ. It is designed for sharing and innovation, in a fashionable location – and apparently is such a hit that people from across the business want to hold meetings there.

In an age where (whatever generation we belong to) we expect speed and ease of access in our lives as consumers, so we will start to require the same of our working lives. I am extremely excited at the prospect of forward-thinking companies creating flexible work arrangements so that staff can blend time in the main office, the odd day from home when necessary, and then drop into conveniently located work spaces to take advantage of co-locating with people from other disciplines or even other organisations.

This all leads me to think that some HR departments need to start working more closely with their real estate and facilities teams to influence the direction of the property strategy and ensure that it supports the people strategy. If we believe that a foundation of our profitable growth is having the best, most engaged employees, then we must take the time to consider how people will want to work now and into the future.

Natalie Bickford is European HR director at Sodexo. She is ranked sixth on the HR Most Influential Practitioners List