The flexible model for office work has taken on a quite significant meaning in the past two and half years and it’s ever-changing – bending to fit the business, not necessarily the market.
Since the instant remote-working during the pandemic began, we’ve seen start-ups migrate to a more hybrid approach which was employee-led, to offer flexibility and in an effort to retain remaining staff as the job market competition increased.
Now, we’re emerging into a slightly new phase in that employers are no longer in steep competition to hire and keep their team but still want to honour their commitment to a new hybrid outlook to the workplace. However, employers are faced with rising costs across many aspects of their business. Decisions on when and how to have office space are vital to a business’ financial survival. In the start-up space, it’s critical to get the balance right between committing to office space and costs, and remaining steady and viable.
Everyone has adapted differently
Laura Beales, from Tally Market in London, who offer flexible working solutions, has a unique perspective on where the market for office space is now, giving insight into the mood and trends for employers.
“We are seeing more flexible offerings that are fully serviced, in order to entice businesses to stay engaged in spaces. Although the mood is good, it is still cautious. We have seen a shift in the employee led job market, but things have stabilised more now.’
In a recent article, Startup.co.uk confirms the recent trends. “Small business owners have yet to agree on the right outcome. Instead, the answer depends on your business’s specific needs. Tech firms have shifted quite easily to a fully-remote working model. Manufacturers have remained in-office, struggling to offer WFH as an employee incentive, others have chosen hybrid working as the best of both worlds...We recommend a co-working workspace over traditional office rentals...[as] co-working offices are particularly beneficial for small businesses.” (Startup.co.uk, ‘The pros, and the cons, of taking your business fully remote’ May 2022).
Emily Lincoln-Gordon from Attest, a software company in London who offer market analysis and brand tracking commented, “At Attest, we've always invested heavily in ensuring there's an office space for folks to come to, although we don't 'mandate' office days or anything like that. Anyone who is in the office, is here because they choose to be. We are about 150 people across London and NYC, and we have folks who don't come in, folks who come in rarely, folks who come in sporadically and folks who come in weekly and regularly. There are about 70-80 employees who come into the London office with some regularity (more than one day per week every week).
“At the beginning of the pandemic, our lease was due to run out in June that year, at which time we were in a full lockdown and no one was going into an office. As soon as those restrictions became qualified (i.e. people were able to go to the workplace for certain reasons), we were keen to provide that safe space an office represents for some people. That setup can be pretty lonely, and for some actually, dangerous.
Some friends of mine, Anthony and Toby over at Making Moves, a commercial property company, reached out to me in late 2020 and explained that for obvious reasons, their business was affected by COVID (nobody was moving or taking offices at that time!) and that to ensure the best possible situation for their team, they were looking for someone to share their office space and therefore the cost base of it until we were out of the worst of covid. It suited us perfectly to have a small but contained space in central Shoreditch to open up to our team two days a week (they had the other three). We were at the time one of the few places providing an office space people could come to, should they need to.
As soon as it became possible, and with our team indicating they were keen to return to an office more broadly, we secured an 8,000 sq ft converted warehouse office space in Shoreditch. We liked it because at the time we were still quite deep into the pandemic, but this space is open, airy, completely self-contained with its own courtyard and we don't share any common areas with any other business so the health and safety measures we put in place are fully controlled by us.
I know there are a lot of people out there who believe the future of work is fully remote and who are staunchly against the office. However, we know from candidates we interview and several that we've hired in the last six months that one of the things that helped us stand out to them was the very fact we have an office (they were leaving a remote role), so while we all get the benefits of remote work as/when we want and need it (as we are hybrid ourselves), and we know some thrive being fully remote at other companies, we're proud to have provided a safe and welcoming space for staff pretty much throughout the entirety of the pandemic and into today. What we believe is important is that the space is here should they want it, as opposed to because we have some ulterior motive to getting them into it.”
Justin Langen from Uncapped, a tech business that provides debt financing for early-stage tech companies in the UK, USA and Europe, explained how they ended up becoming a fully remote business. “Our business was born very close to the start of COVID, so we designed our processes almost from scratch to fit the remote working model. We have found that our productivity is still high, we have access to a wider pool of talent, and we can encourage people to travel and pursue passions that never would have been possible in an office only environment. We have put practices in place to ensure we clearly communicate what is happening across the business and we are careful to store key information for everyone to read regularly via Notion. We also have monthly social meet ups, attend events together and hold company team building days/trips so that we still have time together to be collaborative and connected. So far, we definitely feel that the formula we have is working. That being said we are always looking for more ways to improve!”
Where do we go from here?
Time will tell is probably the shortest answer. Every business is finding their own level. The type of business can dictate whether remote or hybrid is on offer but it’s also down to business ethos too. Probably the two biggest factors to consider are financial commitments and staff uptake.
Start-ups have to weigh their own values against what is possible within their sector and the marketplace mood at the moment. In most cases, businesses are still navigating uncharted waters and finding that trial and error with what suits all those elements has proven to be the best tack to take.
Another factor to consider, is the rising cost of energy. As the colder weather hits, heating a home office will become a cost some won’t want to pay and more frequent visits to the office will become more favourable. But will there be enough space for them?
The good news is, there are more and more options to getting the right hybrid solution for your business.