The great “where to work” discussion will continue to evolve: home, office, city, countryside? Needless to say, we will be writing lots more about it in this blog.
In the meantime a multitude of different experiences and experiments undertaken over the last 18 months will help inform workers and employers what works best for them.
Although I usually comment generally on the London office market, here are a few personal observations borne from the pandemic, lockdown and its aftermath.
Working in the Countryside – an experiment
A few years ago, we bought a holiday cottage in deepest North Norfolk. We’ve loved it dearly, but generally only visited during school holidays, after which we’ve reluctantly dragged ourselves back to London and “reality”.
At the end of Lockdown #2 , however we took the plunge! We installed super-fast broadband and tried living and working in the country for a short while! The area is certainly beautiful with huge skies, stunning beaches and lots of tweeting birds. There is also a breed even more interesting than the birds. Tweeters are very gentle tweed-clad human mammals who spend all day eying the birds through binoculars. In a sense the tweeters are even more fascinating to me than their prey!
At the end of Lockdown #2 we took the plunge! We installed super-fast broadband and tried living and working in the country for a short while!
There are however, a few issues we found in the country. I certainly should have read the house buyers survey more carefully…
Smells of the country
We have this weird arrangement in our garden. Below the decking where we take afternoon tea, we share 3 cess pits with the neighbours! On a recent visit, my mother commented, over tea and madeira cake, that she loved the aroma of agricultural fields, but the brand of fertiliser favoured by local farmers smelled a little fruity. Unfortunately – with Covid’ n all – I had forgotten the annual emptying of said cess pits ceremony! Nick “the rod” was unable to come round for a few days, by which time my parents remembered they had other children still living in London!
The destructive power…of mice!
Another issue was mice. I’m not saying it’s right, but historically our cat Cocoa has given the local vermin a run for their money. Over the years the downstairs of our house has sometimes resembled the Somme with dead mice littering the floor. I’m told by Ian (Pest control) we have been very unlucky: recently the mice have fought back strongly. Without exaggeration, they’ve chewed through important pipes and wires and effectively destroyed a fridge, washing machine and a dishwasher! We have the place under control now. However the continual anxiety that our white goods were at risk has had an adverse impact on my mental health.
Fish & Chips 24/7? I don’t think so…
I shouldn’t keep banging on. However the other issue I suffered in our experiment of “The Good Life” was that our local village fish and chip shop (1.5 miles from our rural idyll) had to close at 8pm prompt, irrespective of demand! I have full sympathy with older people, who need to eat early and regularly in order to keep the show on the road. However I am used to being able to eat fast food whenever the fancy takes me…
Suffice to say I am writing this blog post from my office back home in London!
Being back in the office can be fun!
The other day I was in a meeting (in quite a cool Shoreditch serviced office) with clients and solicitors to go through a list of sticking points prior to agreeing an office lease. Historically this kind of meeting can be extremely tedious. Clients and agents struggle to remain alert while their learned solicitors bash each other over the head with arguments about uninsured risks. But I was enjoying myself! After a pleasant cycle ride to the office, it was fun having grown-up conversations with adults, eating chocolate biscuits whilst luxuriating in air conditioned bliss.
I had just come from my swelteringly hot home office, windows open to create a draught with papers flying everywhere!
It was fun having grown-up conversations with adults, eating chocolate biscuits whilst luxuriating in air conditioned bliss.
Higher quality London Office Space is increasingly available
Forward thinking employers and landlords (not all by any means) are now trying to provide notably higher quality office space. We have one client acquiring an office in Holborn where the landlords are providing great facilities. In the downstairs entrance hall/lounge the landlords are providing comfortable hotel lobby-like settees set tastefully around coffee tables. Staff can meet clients informally downstairs over a coffee if they don’t want to take them upstairs for a more conventional meeting. There is a huge roof terrace with stunning views of the British Museum’s wavy roof and the West End beyond. Other facilities include a gym, showers, bike racks and a “wellness suite” which facilitates meditation, pilates, head massages and yoga!
Forward thinking employers and landlords are now trying to provide notably higher quality office space, installing gyms, showers, bike racks and “wellness suites”.
Imaginative incentives for employees
Some employers are now offering incentives unimaginable until recently, so keen are they to attract staff back into the office for at least part of the week. For example, a leading law firm in the City of London is allegedly offering staff a £45K “fertility perk”! The Times reported the package was for “personalised fertility care and family forming support”, made available for spouses and partners of its staff as well as for “single parents by choice and LGBTQ+ couples and individuals”. What’s not to like about that?
To be honest I can’t imagine this kind of life affirming package being made available too far from City environments; certainly not in quiet corners of the Norfolk countryside, at least during my life time!
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Ian has advised Central London office occupiers for over 20 years - fighting their corner and making sure they get a great office on the best terms. He has a diverse client following, often working with creative companies.