Over the last few months, businesses have had to adapt how they work in ways no one ever could have predicted. But now that lockdown restrictions are beginning to lift, corporates are preparing for a new normal where old practices are being re-evaluated and replaced by more flexibility and agility. It’s not as simple as returning to normal – new employee expectations for their offices must now be navigated, as well as all of the health and safety concerns that come with a pandemic.
One of the key measures affecting plans to return to workplaces is social distancing. A recent report by Knight Frank, for example, found that the average employee in the City only has 126 sq. ft available in their usual workspace, compared to the 135 sq. ft. needed to comply with social distancing rules. Although the Prime Minister has since updated guidelines to decrease the two-metre rule, the problem remains – London is short on space, and most offices simply aren’t equipped for a socially distant world.
There are, of course, various ways around this problem. Businesses may choose, for example, to implement rotas that allow fewer employees to be physically present at work at any given time. However, it’s also important to explore other strategies that come with a host of additional benefits, allowing corporates to stay as agile as possible without the potential logistical problems of other paths.
One solution to the space deficit the city is facing is ‘swing space’ – an emerging trend that we at The Argyll Club are already seeing many businesses adopt. Essentially, swing space is additional flexible workspace that acts as overflow for any employees who can’t safely or comfortably fit in a company’s existing HQ. And in the new era of work we are currently entering, with more economic uncertainty looming, swing space makes flexible workspaces not just a ‘nice to have’ for start-ups or small brands, but a crucial tool for recovery for larger companies.
Of course, not every flexible workspace will be suitable for sectors where high levels of professionalism are key – the traditional ‘coworking’ space, equipped with bean bags and beer on tap often won’t suffice. Choosing the correct provider is therefore crucial to reaping the benefits of swing space; picking one with sophisticated décor, a fully trained reception team, quiet, safe space and secure communication rooms, for example, reflects a business’s values and needs, and can feel like an extension of your existing offices.
But once you’ve decided on using a satellite location and have chosen the right workspace, what added benefits can you expect for your employees and balance sheet? To start with, added flexibility can be necessary in helping employees transition back into the office after months of working from home.
If staff are keen to avoid public transport, for instance, but are unable to commute to their usual office by walking or cycling, then choosing a location closer to home that also provides shower facilities and bike racks can help them feel comfortable in returning to work. We’ve already seen a 10% jump in enquiries for workspaces in Belgravia and Knightsbridge, where our members’ employees are more likely to be based, which goes to show how popular more accessible locations are becoming.
In the current climate, swing space can free corporates from the commitment of a long lease without compromising on the quality of their workspace. A flexible solution can put them in a position to contract or expand the size of their office and team in line with the economic climate and adapt as the business ebbs and flows.
Deploying swing space is a strategy for getting teams back into productive and safe professional environments, but also a commercial tool for weathering any potential storms. Now, the challenge is getting all of London’s businesses to reimagine “flex-space” – it’s not just a trendy space suitable for start-ups, it could help on the road to recovery.