As lockdown restrictions ease on the 19th of July, we will likely no longer be asked to work from home. Many businesses are welcoming this reopening, while others have found that remote-working or hybrid work models work well for them.
To find out whether London is going back to the office, remote or hybrid, we spoke to Tushar Agarwal, Co-founder & CEO of Hubble.
Thank you Tushar, we really appreciate you finding the time to speak with us!
You have a unique insight into how London-based companies have been adapting to and planning the future of work. What can you share?
Tushar: Since the pandemic began, we’ve spoken to thousands of business owners and decision-makers about how they were thinking about their post-Covid workplace. Last year, we surveyed over 1,000 employees on their experience working from home during coronavirus and—with this in mind—how they’d like to work in the future.
We got thousands of fascinating data points, but a few stood out. For example, we found that 86% of employees now want to work remotely at least once a week, but only 15% want to do so every day. What’s more, 76% feel as productive, if not more so, at home—but only 9% categorically thought that their company no longer needed an office of any kind.
Of course, demographics also play a big part—as does the role, department, and sector that an employee works in. And that’s the crux of it: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the future of where we work. Flexibility is key.
Since we’ve had this extended WFH experiment—which proved that people can work away from the office effectively—employees will demand more and want more say in where and how they work. Employers will have to listen to their employees and create personalised work environments—which in turn, will help them benefit from happier, more productive employees and much better talent, hiring, and retention.
Pre-COVID, full-time office working was the default option for most businesses. But now, it looks like those businesses may well become the minority. It’s safe to say that the world of work will never be the same again.
Hubble is now also helping companies with their hybrid workspaces. What is your key strategy, and do you see many companies going hybrid?
Tushar: Absolutely. For the past five years, HubbleHQ has been London’s largest online marketplace for renting flexible office space, and we’ve helped some of the UK’s most forward-thinking companies find flexible workplace solutions to meet their needs—including Monzo, Trustpilot, PwC, and Accenture.
But given the momentous changes in the world of work, and the insights we’ve gleaned from our extensive customer research over the past 18 months, we’re now launching as the world’s first Hybrid Workplace Platform.
To do this, we’ve built four products that enable businesses to configure a workplace setup tailored to their specific needs—whether that be across HQ space, home working solutions, access to a global network of on-demand workspace, or a combination of all three.
And by allowing businesses to manage all of these workspace needs in one simple platform, we make it much more cost-effective and much less complicated to adopt a hybrid strategy.
Because adoption of hybrid setups is definitely on the rise. At Hubble, our customer base is typically made up of SMEs, but it also includes an increasing number of larger businesses. As such, we’re seeing the full spectrum of hybrid setups—all the way from people wanting their team back in the office for four days a week, to meeting in person just a few days a year.
The truth is, the office was one-size-fits-all, and it didn’t work. WFH was also one-size-fits-all, and that didn’t work either. So, we feel that the future of where we work will be personalised to each individual, team, and organisation. Every company and employee will have their own ideal blend of working from the HQ, home and on-demand third spaces—and we aim to make that easy.
How are property developers ensuring that workspaces are environmentally friendly? Is there anything that businesses can do to make their workspace more sustainable?
Tushar: Definitely—there are many things. One of the most impactful things that a startup can do to meet their sustainability goals is to pick their workspace wisely. So, whether they’re looking for a private office or a shared workspace, they can always factor in the building’s environmental impact into the decision making.
Just like older residential properties, less modern office buildings are often much more wasteful of energy and thus carry a larger carbon footprint. The good news is that a growing amount of sustainable office space is available to businesses, which take advantage of the latest eco-initiatives. This includes everything from using cutting-edge building materials and processes to upcycled furniture and solar power—and many of these workspaces are in the UK.
Some great examples in the capital are Second Home – Spitalfields, which uses 100% green energy to power its offices. There’s also TOG- White Collar Factory, designed by Derwent—who say that the building’s sustainability measures reduce its carbon footprint by the equivalent of 5,600 journeys of the entire London Underground, and Greenhouse E9, who have furnished their offices using recycled materials.
Another thing that businesses should consider in their sustainability efforts is their general workplace policy. Transport is the most significant source of carbon emissions in the UK—and commuting accounts for 25% of these. That’s a massive contribution to a business’s carbon footprint.
But the pandemic has shown that undertaking hour-long commutes, five days a week, isn’t actually necessary for many businesses to function, and the Average Commuter Emissions Level (ACEL) fell by 20% at the peak of lockdown.
What’s more, our ‘Should we ditch the office? Survey’ showed that 79% of employees ranked the lack of commute as one of the top 3 things about working remotely. Given that a huge proportion of employees don’t enjoy commuting, and reducing it can positively impact the environment, it’s well worth considering giving employees the freedom to either work remotely more regularly or more locally to where they live.
How do you see London’s work environment changing over the next year, and in your view, will the models companies adopt stick?
Tushar: I definitely think the London work environment will change dramatically. The pandemic has highlighted that the “workplace” is no longer a singular space—but rather a network of environments and experiences that are flexible, frictionless, and fulfilling.
So, there’ll be much more variety and an increased focus on employees and their needs. This means more hybrid models and employees’ work split between HQ, home, and “third spaces”.
That said, this is a period of experimentation. It’s unlikely that businesses will get things right the first time around. So, we’ve got to be open to that and be willing to try, fail, and adapt quickly. The most impactful thing businesses can do is maintain open feedback loops with employees—listening to their experiences, and acting accordingly.
Because flexibility, autonomy, and choice in where we work are now the #1 demand from workers worldwide. We believe that the organisations that respond to this will have happy and productive teams—and will ultimately win the war for the world’s best talent.
What kind of advice would you give companies who haven’t decided on their future work model yet?
Tushar: First and foremost, companies should listen to their teams. Employers shouldn’t underestimate the pandemic’s impact on attitudes towards flexible working—this will be the era when employees start to have a much more significant influence over real estate decisions. Businesses whose office plans are at odds with their employees’ preferences are likely to struggle with hiring and retention. So, listening and considering your team’s needs is crucial for establishing your future work model.
You could do this by:
- Ensuring that all managers have had 1:1s with their direct reports about how they want to work in the future
- Forming a small employee task force, comprising people from all levels and departments, to brainstorm ideas
- Running a team survey to find out how and where employees would most like to work in the future
Once you’ve got these insights, you can work out how to make them compatible with your business’ fundamental needs and constraints (e.g. budget, practicalities, and culture) and use that to form your search criteria.
At this point, you’re in a good position to make a “first draft” of your strategy. As we mentioned before, it’s important to ensure that this is communicated with your employees from an early stage; a proposal, rather than a decree. It may also help to explain your reasoning with data.
Finally, once you’ve had initial feedback from the team, you can start to explore your workplace options, and think about officially revisiting and updating your company processes and policies.
Of course, we totally understand that figuring out a brand new strategy like this is no mean feat, and that the outcome for each company will look very different. That’s where Hubble comes into play! From helping you gather the data insights from your team, to helping you find a cost-effective solution that meets your needs, we can help. You can get in touch with our team of experts here—our services are completely free.