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Fora in the news

DerwentLondon Derwent London
Fora lets 6-8 Greencoat Place for opening in Victoria next year
Fora, the premium flexible workspace provider, is taking a 15-year lease with no breaks on the six-floor Derwent London scheme in Victoria, totalling 32,400 sq ft of imaginatively remodelled warehouse-style office space.

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Fora, the premium flexible workspace provider, is taking a 15-year lease with no breaks on the six-floor Derwent London scheme in Victoria, totalling 32,400 sq ft of imaginatively remodelled warehouse-style office space. The average rent is c.£69 per sq ft and the overall rental incentive is equivalent to a 34-month rent-free period. Due to open in 2022, the new Fora workspace sits within a larger cluster of Derwent London buildings with excellent transport links to facilitate the growing demand for commuter-friendly workspaces in London. Bringing Fora’s portfolio to 18 sites across London, Oxford, Cambridge and Reading, 6-8 Greencoat Place is the first lease the workspace provider has taken with Derwent London. The letting is Fora’s response to the increased need for workers to access their workspaces easily and adds an important London sub-market to Fora’s comprehensive network of buildings. Just a short walk from Victoria mainline and underground, and St. James’ Park underground and neighbouring Westminster, the site is one of the best-connected spots in the capital for both Londoners and non-Londoners commuting to and around the city.

The property sits within a Derwent London cluster of late Victorian buildings totalling 287,000 sq ft, which includes Greencoat & Gordon House and Francis House. These buildings date back to the late 19th
century and were once warehousing storerooms and food halls of the Army and Navy store. Since 1998 Derwent London with architects Squire & Partners have been regenerating the buildings to create a vibrant business quarter. Fora’s premium flexible workspace will further enhance the appeal of the area.

Both Fora and Derwent London are committed to designing, delivering and operating buildings responsibly and have ensured that sustainable measures have been put in place to achieve this. Both Derwent London and Fora have announced programmes to be net zero carbon businesses by 2030 and, as such, the property has been retrofitted with all electric heating replacing gas boilers, double-glazed windows, enhanced sub-metering and improved bike spaces and shower facilities which will allow occupiers to cycle to work. The building’s EPC rating is expected to improve from ‘E’ to ‘B’.
Paul Williams, Chief Executive of Derwent London, said:

“We are pleased to welcome Fora, one of the UK’s leading flexible workspace providers, to both 6-8 Greencoat Place and to our portfolio. We have created modern adaptable space while significantly enhancing the building’s sustainability and longevity. This combination enabled Fora to make a long-term commitment, and they, in turn, will provide an important amenity for our surrounding occupiers.”

Enrico Sanna, co-founder and CEO of Fora said:

“With ways of working continually changing and priorities shifting in terms of travelling into city centres, it is crucial that we are providing flexible workspaces in conveniently located and accessible transport hubs. Lockdown has made many re-evaluate where they want to work, and although there is no doubt that there is still a requirement for the office space, a more efficient commute will be a significant factor for all, which Fora will offer through 6-8 Greencoat Place.”

Alongside the news of the new Victoria space, Fora continues to develop its new Fitzrovia site, Wells Mews, which is due to open later this year. Fora is also expanding into Oxford and Cambridge, and currently operates 13 UK sites with plans for new locations in the UK and internationally over the coming years.

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hyyrciMT_400x400 Best Companies
Top Job: Fora employees voted us a top UK workplace
London's 50 Best Companies to Work for 2021 - This is a list of the very best companies in the capital in 2021.

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The list consists of organisations who employ between 75 and 199 employees and have at least 30 employees working from a London post code who provided feedback during their engagement survey

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BritishVogue British Vogue
For Many, Life Right Now Is Precarious
In ‘Get Your Greens’, an ongoing series in line with Earth Day, British Vogue explores how the industry is advancing towards a greener future.

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What if the answer to solving one crisis is to help another? Earlier this month, 24 brands and designers, including Victoria Beckham, Simone Rocha and Paul Smith, donated thousands of metres of deadstock fabric to fashion students across the country.

The Student Fabric Initiative is a new scheme, run through the British Fashion Council. By donating, the brands are not just addressing the fashion industry’s excess fabric crisis and encouraging a deeper education in sustainability, they are also helping fashion students who face financial crisis and who are unable to afford materials to complete their course.

The scheme is astonishingly simple. Brands donate fabric, which is then distributed to 33 fashion colleges around the country, through the Colleges Council of the BFC. In the past, brands have regularly donated fabric to fashion colleges, but it’s usually been ad-hoc, and focused on London colleges. The Student Fabric Initiative aims to make it easy for brands to systematically donate to colleges across the UK as part of their sustainability efforts.

Burberry has paid for delivery, following its own donation of fabric to the colleges in a pilot of the scheme earlier this year. Matchesfashion.com has helped with pick-ups, while Fora gave storage space. It is clear that many people want to help.

These donations can be life changing. BA students face £50,000 of debt to pay for fees, rent and living expenses. For many, this was a near-impossible financial burden even before the pandemic. This past year, there’s suddenly been a dearth of student-friendly employment: no waitering positions, no bar work, no store jobs. Parents who had hoped to help pay fees may have lost their employment. For many, life right now is precarious.

Added onto their fees, students are expected to also pay for materials: fabric for both sampling and finished pieces; buttons; zips; embellishments; trims. These costs make fashion education impossible for many. I’m a visiting lecturer on the BA Fashion course at the University of Westminster, where last year one of the final year students was Steven Stokey-Daley. Proudly working class, Stokey-Daley is honest about the impossibility of fashion education without support.

In his final year, he benefitted from a fabric donation from Alexander McQueen, where he had interned. The donation allowed him to create the most glorious final collection, skewering and queering the look of British public schools. On graduating last summer, Stokey-Daley continued to make pieces using repurposed fabrics under the label S.S. Daley. The stylist Harry Lambert took notice, and soon his client Harry Styles was wearing S.S. Daley in the video for his track “Golden”.

The number of times Stokey-Daley’s life was changed by the fabric donation are manifold. He was able to complete his graduate collection and could do so dedicating himself to a sustainable practice. That practice was so fruitful that he was able to immediately establish his own brand, get noticed and contribute to the global fashion conversation with his ultra-wide trousers and flowing shirts.

It was Stokey-Daley’s example that led me to start creating the Student Fabric Initiative: if his life could be changed so profoundly, how many more students could we help? Could we do so not just in London, where it’s easy to deliver excess fabrics from design studios straight to colleges, but to fashion students across the UK?

Circularity is the goal here. A couple of brands didn’t have excess fabric to donate because they already have full circularity in their design practice. Until all brands can adopt a fully circular design model, to me it makes perfect sense for them to donate their excess fabric to students. And to not just do it once, but to make it a regular part of their practice. The greater opportunity that students have to work with deadstock fabrics, the more likely they are to continue working sustainably when they leave college. The more education we can provide around sustainability, the quicker the fashion industry can move towards circularity, with these recent graduates not just demanding change, but making it happen.

It’s been incredible to see the response to the Student Fabric Initiative. So many brands have already donated, so many have given their time freely to help make it happen. There are many other brands and designers who have expressed interest in future donations. My hope is to coordinate the next donation ready to help students as soon as the next academic year begins in the autumn. It would be fantastic to see other countries adopting the same easy model, through organisations such as the CFDA in the United States or the Camera della Moda in Italy. By doing so, we can help brands move towards circularity, help students in financial peril and help strengthen education in sustainability, not just in this country, but around the world.

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Raconteur400x400 Raconteur
The office isn’t dead, it’s different
Organisations are thinking twice before committing to a long-term office lease in the current climate, so flexible workspaces are increasingly attractive to relocate teams as employees emerge from lockdown

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As business leaders cautiously unbolt their doors after lockdown, blinking to adjust to a new reality, it’s becoming clear that office spaces offering safety, agility and value are highly desirable in these uncertain times. In the raging debate about the coronavirus-era office, there is a strong argument for embracing flexible workspaces. So let’s talk about flex space.

While home working has benefits, numerous studies show it affects both physical and mental health. Little wonder a recent survey published by Office Space in Town (OSiT), providers of serviced offices in London, Cardiff, Northampton and Edinburgh, discovered that just 5 per cent of employees want to work remotely on a full-time basis.

“Respondents cited the inability to unplug, loneliness and distractions as major pitfalls of home working,” says OSiT chief executive Giles Fuchs.

Indeed, statistics released exclusively for this Future of Work report, reveal that 97 per cent of 14,000 members of leading flex-space provider The Office Group (TOG) believe they will require an office as the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Furthermore, the new research, carried out in partnership with Leesman, indicates almost half the respondents (46 per cent) feel disconnected from colleagues during home working, while 38 per cent feel disconnected from their organisation.

“Despite many hailing the pandemic as the death of the office, I believe we’re seeing its evolution from a rigid concept to one of fluidity,” says Olly Olsen, co-founder and co-chief executive of TOG. “More than 40 per cent of our inquiries during lockdown have come from companies that are currently in traditional offices, which just aren’t set up to offer the space density or layout required to meet safety measures and create a comfortable work setting in this new era.”

Embracing new health measures
Enrico Sanna, co-founder and chief executive of Fora, which has 11 flex-space venues in London, is equally bullish. “We are going to continue to see flexible workspaces take market share from traditional offices, probably at a faster rate than we have been doing to date,” he says. “To reopen an entire headquarters for just 10 per cent of the workforce is completely uneconomical.”

To reopen an entire headquarters for just 10 per cent of the workforce is completely uneconomical

Also, having employees stationed across three or four different sites, as flex-space providers often offer, helps from a health and safety perspective. Sanna explains: “There are fewer people to spread infection and, if someone is taken ill, it doesn’t risk the entire workforce.”

Richard Hyams, founder and director of architects astudio, points to findings by Bisnow, published in April, as evidence of the global trend for flex space. Almost three quarters of those surveyed (71 per cent) want their employers to provide some form of flexible workspace following the lockdown. However, he warns that flex space providers must invest in technology and better ventilation systems to take advantage of the predicted uptick in demand.

“Even before we were worried about airborne pathogens, air quality was a growing concern,” he says. “The Lancet reported, in 2018, that 800,000 people in the UK die annually as a result of poor building air quality. At astudio, we have designed displacement air systems that ensure the air we breathe is as clean as possible. Already these systems are helping to future-proof flex spaces against health risks.”

Flex space workingYork House in London’s Kings Cross, part of The Office Group
Tech solutions for health challenges
Happily, most flex-space providers are moving with the times. “Fora has installed thermal imaging cameras that test the temperature of people entering the building, signage and one-way-systems, as well as best-in-class ventilation, and increased levels of sanitation and hygiene,” says Sanna.

Similarly, The Argyll Club, which has 38 luxury workspaces across London, has listened to customers’ concerns about public transport and increased bike storage and built more showers. Beth Hampson, commercial director, is unsurprised that flex space is increasingly appealing to business leaders. For one, they need not be tied into long-term office leases for buildings that, due to social-distancing measures and home working, are likely to be woefully under-utilised.

“It’s clear remote working isn’t going away completely, but it’s also evident that getting teams back into offices is needed for the UK’s morale and economic recovery,” she says. “The most successful businesses in this new age will be those that can effectively find an equilibrium between the two.

“For employees, this means a hub they can use as needed to create a working week that best suits them. For employers, it means a safe home for your business, which is run with stringent health and safety policies, but with a shorter lease, so you can adapt to the changing economic cycle and expand or contract as needed.”

Flex space is critical for survival
OSiT’s Fuchs agrees. “Flexible workspace offers businesses the ability to be nimbler as they recover from the financial strains of the pandemic and gradually bring back furloughed staff, as well as the capability to flex space up and down to cater to social-distancing requirements,” he says. “And having flexible access to ‘burst space’ outside their current real-estate commitments is invaluable.”

In addition to helping rehouse teams and assisting with overflow, flex spaces can attract and retain both talent and clients. “The shared services provided by flexible workspaces offer businesses the ability to access HQ-standard facilities,” says Fuchs. “At OSiT, all our tenants can typically access gyms, salons, doctors, restaurants, cafés and even hotel rooms.”

Aside from the promise of exclusive access to dumbbells and haircuts, Hampson from The Argyll Club summarises the primary reason this industry is on course to grow in the coming weeks, months and years. “Flex space has always been about helping businesses remain agile,” she concludes. “Now that agility is no longer just a ‘nice to have’, it’s critical for survival.”

Written by
Oliver Pickup

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Bloomberg400x400 Bloomberg
A London Landlord Rethinks the Office of the Future
Enrico Sanna is doing all he can to protect tenants in his London office buildings from Covid-19. He’s installed hands-free sinks and thermal imaging cameras in the lobbies, and every visitor gets a cloth mask.

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Yet he knows soap and social distancing won’t be enough as companies increasingly question their need for offices, and leasing deals crater.

That’s why Sanna and his team at Fora Space Ltd. are brainstorming ways to transform offices into multimedia hubs that deliver more than a desk, a phone and a supply of face coverings. One idea: using hologram technology so those working from home can beam three-dimensionally into meetings.

“I have to do more than sell my clients square feet,” says Sanna, 47, a one-time investment banker at Deutsche Bank AG. “The office has to support collaboration and serendipity between colleagues. So what’s a more immersive way of meeting with people working from home? This is just one of the things we’re thinking about.”

The pandemic sideswiped Fora in the midst of a major expansion. The four-year-old company opened nine locations in 2018 and 2019, and in 2022, the firm plans to complete construction of a building in London’s tech hub, Shoreditch, with 100,000 square feet of space. Late last year, Fora refinanced with a 280 million-pound loan ($353 million) secured by its properties from a fund managed by Nuveen LLC.

No matter what steps Sanna takes, it may be tough for Fora to find and keep tenants. Financial firms were already reducing their footprint before the pandemic walloped London’s market.

U.K. commercial-property investment sank to a record low in the second quarter, according to Lambert Smith Hampton Ltd. a London-based brokerage. Demand for core office space could fall more than 25% this year. In recent months, WeWork, the global co-working giant that cratered last year, has tried to renegotiate some of its own leases and in a small number of cases has withheld rent from landlords.

“A lot of smaller tenants are going to struggle,” says James Carswell, a real estate analyst at Peel Hunt LLP, a London investment bank. “If you need to save money, the easy thing to do is hand back the keys, and re-filling empty space is going to be tough.”

Doing that isn’t just a real estate question. Cities are struggling to revive economies devastated by the spring lockdowns and the threat of future closures.

It could open a new chapter in the constant evolution of urban landscapes. In just the past few decades, London’s disused wharves morphed from vestiges of empire into a global banking hub. In Brooklyn, chic lofts replaced moribund factories. Now office towers face wholesale re-imagination -- one more radical than the open floorplan.

“The future of work may be up in the air,” says Octavius Black, the CEO of Mind Gym Plc, a consulting firm on workplace behavior. “But one thing is certain -- you can’t build a corporate culture on Zoom.”

Sanna, whose tenants include Sony Corp., is betting that comfort and style are a key part of the answer. Fora is a so-called flexible space provider that leases private offices, co-working spaces and even just desks on terms that can range from month-to-month and then be tailored to each client. It tricks out its spaces with amenities you’d find in a boutique hotel. Fora’s Soho location features a gym, a roof terrace, and a lounge with a turntable for spinning vinyl records. The WeWork-meets-Soho House vibe appeals to firms such as DropBox Inc., which took a whole floor in the building.

Unlike WeWork, Fora owns eight of the 12 buildings it operates, which means it doesn’t have to fund long-term leases with revenue from short-term tenants. As tough as the market looks now, the type of space Fora provides is expected to soar to 30% of global square footage by 2030, according to a July report by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., a property broker. With London at just 6%, that’s a lot of potential upside.

In the Italian-born Sanna, Fora has a banking veteran steeped in the hard lessons of fiscal distress. From 2012 to 2016, he managed Deutsche Bank AG’s portfolio of non-core operating assets. Sanna found himself the chairman of The Cosmopolitan, a half-built luxury hotel in Las Vegas the bank had foreclosed on in 2008. Overseeing the completion of a place with a three-story-high chandelier and digital art installations, Sanna was smitten. Deutsche Bank sold the place to Blackstone Group Inc. in 2014, and two years later Sanna quit with an eye toward starting a firm that would manage office space like a hotel.

As it happened, two of Sanna’s old friends from the MIT Sloan School of Management had the same idea. David Marks and Jason Blank had formed Brockton Capital LLP in 2005 and raised 1.45 billion pounds in three funds that invested in commercial property and operating enterprises such as Camden Lock Market, which turned a London tourist destination into an open-air food and crafts bazaar. They believed the WeWork model was a game changer, but they wanted to go upscale.

Brockton invested 300 million pounds in equity in Fora and brought Sanna together with co-founder Katrina Larkin, an entrepreneur who’d managed Camden Lock Market and was named Fora’s head of experience. From the outset, they sought to make their places happening scenes. Last year, cast members from the hit BBC show Peaky Blinders dropped by Fora’s Soho building to record a podcast in its studios, which are available to all tenants.

All the buzz has evaporated. Now Sanna is girding for the task ahead.

“I need to convince you to come back to the office now,” he says.

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TheGuardian_400x400 The Guardian
Desperate UK Covid home workers renting solace from nimble-footed firms

Offers of desk space, good wifi and refreshment are helping hotels and others to balance their books

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Tired of working on the kitchen table or juggling conference calls and family life, and with no return to their desks in sight, many of the country’s office workers are seeking out alternative workplaces – from hotel rooms and cocktail bars to fitness clubs – for a change of scene.

Businesses are hoping that the offer of a desk, reliable wifi and refreshments will attract workers weary of half a year of working from home, while boosting their income in challenging times.

On a wet weekday morning, Edmund Weil has bagged a cosy corner table at Swift Shoreditch, a cocktail bar in the hip east London district. But he’s there for a business meeting rather than the drinks.

“Everyone has seen a lot of home,” Weil said. “Lots of people who don’t have a home office are at the stage where if you have to choose between a face-to-face meeting and Zoom, they choose face to face.”

The father of three children, including a four-month-old baby, Weil has been looking for places to work where there are fewer distractions.

As a bar owner, he is more used than most to spending daylight hours in venues dedicated to night-time socialising, but he is part of a growing number of workers finding temporary desks in different locations.

Coral Anderson, the general manager of Swift Shoreditch, said the 10pm curfew has hurt trade at bars that usually make most of their income in late-night trading.
Swift Shoreditch has signed up to a “work from bars” initiative created by Fraser Campbell, ambassador for whisky brand Dewar’s. Its intention is to highlight venues that are now welcoming workers, while bringing new customers to businesses struggling with reduced trade and government regulations.

“Bars have changed their opening hours to open at 12 o’clock, they have started doing food, they have amazing wifi, and tables with distance between them,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s online map of 150 venues across the UK, from London to Aberdeen, has been visited almost 20,000 times in the four weeks since launch.

Anderson hopes joining the map will help Swift Shoreditch to reach a wider audience.

The number of British workers travelling to work has been falling since early October, according to official figures, and a quarter of workers are still working exclusively from home.
Following the government’s U-turn over the return to the office in September, some of the country’s largest hotel chains have begun to offer daytime room rentals to workers in search of peace and quiet, as hotels grapple with a lack of international tourists and slump in business travel.

Hilton has launched day rentals across the majority of its more than 160 UK hotels, from one of its most luxurious hotels, the Conrad London St James, which costs from £150 a day, to £44.85 a day for a room in York’s Hampton by Hilton.

Meanwhile, European hotel group Accor, owner of brands including Novotel and Ibis, has launched a similar offering at about 220 locations from Brighton to Edinburgh.

Hilton offers rooms with a desk and chair, facilities to make hot drinks, as well as room service and wifi, and use of the gym or swimming pool, with a promise of high levels of hygiene.

“Hotels are having to be creative,” said John Rogers, the head of brands and franchise operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Hilton. “Where historically there would have been large volumes midweek of corporate business, clearly those volumes are lower.”

Beyond hotels, the David Lloyd fitness club chain has reported a 40% increase in online inquiries for corporate memberships, which it attributes to employers wanting to provide staff with gym access and a workplace.

Growing demand for one-day desk rentals has sparked a change at flexible workspace provider Fora, which previously rented out offices for a minimum of one month.
Fora, with 11 buildings across London and Reading and plans for more, offers a day pass at a cost of £40 in the capital and £25 in Reading.

“People aren’t certain how much office space they need right now and how often they want to go into work,” said Enrico Sanna, the chief executive of Fora, who is himself working from the stylishly designed building on Broadwick Street in Soho.

“There is a hardcore of people who don’t want to be at home. These are people who can do it for three months, but not past that, as it’s not the right setup mentally or physically.”

Opening a new business during a recession is for the brave, but Dominic Cools-Lartigue jumped at the chance to open a restaurant, gallery and co-working venue in Shoreditch.
The building, which houses the Tramshed Project, once an East End tram generator, became available after its former occupier, a fine dining restaurant, collapsed into administration in April.

When the Guardian visited a few days after its reopening, about half of the well-spaced tables in the 1,860 sq metre (20,000 sq ft) building were occupied by laptop users.

Laurent Louvrier, the chief executive of the artificial intelligence firm SuccessData, had booked one of Tramshed’s booths for a brainstorming day with three of his 11 staff.
The startup terminated its lease in a building run by flexible office provider WeWork during lockdown, saving a “not negligible” amount of money. Instead, small groups from SuccessData meet once a week at venues such as the Tramshed Project, where a four-person booth requires a minimum daily spend of £30 on food and drink. “This is all we need at the moment,” said Louvier.

“Just opening this vast space as a restaurant right now wouldn’t be viable,” said Cools-Lartigue. “The co-working will help with the evening restaurant bookings. Hopefully one will feed the other.”

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EG_400x400 EG
Why flexible workspace operators will come out ahead post-Covid
Depending on your point of view, the present is either a challenging time for commercial real estate, or an exciting one. The entire sector has been upended, as the world questions if offices are even necessary anymore.

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On the other hand, this turbulence presents an opportunity for the sector to reinvent itself and delivers opportunities for growth that simply can’t be matched by working-from-home.

Prior to Covid-19, a shift away from traditional offices to flexible workspaces, especially among larger organisations, growth companies and established SMEs seeking high-quality spaces that could offer tailored solutions was already beginning. Research published last year signalled a growing market share for flexible office space and Covid-19 has only accelerated this, with CBRE confirming that nearly three-quarters of businesses are now considering flexible working as a result of the pandemic and a shift in working behaviours.

Shift away from long-term leases
What we are seeing is a shift away from traditional, long-term leases, driven by a number of factors. Firstly, the challenge of long-term visibility. It’s difficult to predict what your business’s headcount is going to be for the next five years, let alone the next 20. Secondly, the large capital expenses associated with traditional leases. Why would you want to allocate resource to a fit-out when you are trying to preserve capital? And finally, the flight to quality as customers become more demanding and savvier, seeking a crafted experience that has deeper appeal and benefits.

We are also seeing a second trend – prudence, which is justifiable with the level of uncertainty permeating every sector. Across the economy, real estate investment volumes are modest, M&A is low, and pitching for new business is lethargic. We are seeing a slowdown in all parts of the economy. The resulting behaviour within companies has been a retreat to their “engine rooms”: cutting costs, protecting revenue and accessing government support. A shift away from traditional, long leases falls squarely in the bucket of cost cutting.

Evolution of the office
Our fundamental belief is that the confluence of these two trends will result not in the end of the office, but rather in an evolution. An intentional shift to tailored and adaptive workplaces: physical spaces that take into consideration utilisation and choice to deliver productivity, engagement, and wellness. This is where flexible office operators can capitalise on evolving behaviours and generate demand to stabilise the market.

It is undeniable that humans are social beings who require interaction and also that companies need to bring their people together face-to-face to drive culture, innovation and productivity. The need and desire to go to a workplace will not be extinguished, rather, the level of quality of those workplaces will need to be raised to deliver quality experiences.

Now, as never before, businesses are thinking about commercial real estate in a different way, prioritising human need and productivity. Operators that are able to offer quality in a capital-light structure will grab a greater share of the market.

Working from home over the past few months has been about hunkering down, both physically with your family and metaphorically with your business. When a vaccine, a cure, or a fully repressed R rate is achieved, we will emerge from our “defensive” business practices and focus on growth again.

That growth can only be achieved through human interaction – the role of the office is evolving, not disappearing. Commercial real estate in London will undoubtedly be impacted by the events of the past few months, but flexible workspace operators provide a solution that meets business needs – the current situation gives us an opportunity to deliver on the sector’s forecast growth.

Enrico Sanna is chief executive and co-founder of Fora

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EvStan_400x400 The Evening Standard
Out of office forever? Inside the future of work
WFH, distanced desks and no more water-cooler chats — our jobs are changing for good. Samuel Fishwick reports.

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Even ardent office enthusiasts will find the return to work a slog. The Government’s advice for creating “Covid-19 secure” workplaces is uninspiring: lifts must be half empty (creating tricky bottlenecks in high-rise offices), two-metre distancing tape will be everywhere (like a post-viral crime scene) and working hours will be staggered (meaning working days will feel longer). Hot-desking is also out, so there’s some good news. While construction and manufacturing sectors have had the green light to return, what is the future of the inner-city office?

More importantly, will you want to work there? The omens aren’t good. One company, Pathfindr, excitedly debuted a beeper designed to ensure workers stay two metres apart this week — activating whenever a colleague wearing one comes too close. Fun. It’s also reached the stage of lockdown at which it’s difficult to remember what your desk looks like, and “WFH” has suited many. Software firm Citrix found two thirds of UK workers believe working from home will become more common in the wake of the virus, and most companies’ internal surveys support that idea. Employees say they’ve enjoyed a better work-life balance during lockdown.

Meet the new office security
Employers must ensure offices are safe. Co-working space Fora, whose 11 London sites are home to companies including Time Warner, Sony, Nike and Dropbox, have upgraded security cameras to incoroporate thermal-imaging technology in order to screen for those with high temperatures. Anyone confirmed to have a temperature of more than 38C will not be granted entry. “The technology’s amazing,” Fora co-founder Enrico Sanna tells me. “You can hold a hot coffee cup in front of you and the camera can tell it’s not you.”
Hand-washing stations will be ubiquitous, but better ventilation is also imperative. Older air conditioning systems often recycle the same air through the building. Two studies of a single restaurant in Guangzhou, China, concluded that crowded gatherings and poor ventilation created an isolated loop, allowing virus particles to be transferred. Sanna says that modern systems cycling fresh air from outside mitigate the diffusion of airborne viral “microdroplets”.

Better sanitation costs money. The Government has earmarked £14 million for health and safety inspectors and equipment but, as Second Home founder Rohan Silva tells me, it’s a full-time time job “thinking about cleaning every half-hour”. He says one reason his co-working space has received such a high volume of six-month rental enquiries is that companies struggling to stay afloat simply can’t afford to pay their own sanitation bills. Several inner-city banks have put in large orders to StoBox, an initiative shipping crates of antibacterial wipes, oximeters and thermometers to businesses. Generally, Silva thinks that the virus will accelerate trends that were already there: healthier, better-sanitised office spaces where worker well-being is prioritised.

Home advantage
Returning to the office desk will be arduous. Transport for London says it can only run at between 13 and 15 per cent capacity while meeting social distancing guidelines. Until the virus is eliminated, rush hour will be a biohazard as well as ghastly. According to polling from the TUC, 40 per cent of workers surveyed feel worried returning to their usual place of work. Some, like those with underlying health conditions, will stay away indefinitely.

“The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past”, said Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, as a PwC survey found a quarter of chief financial officers were thinking of cutting back on office real estate. Two weeks ago Twitter announced that it will allow its employees to work from home “forever”. Last week Facebook announced it will do similar — with a likely 50 per cent of its personnel WFH permanently. Despite fears that a surge in internet use would overwhelm broadband networks, they’ve largely held up. A survey in the US by the company Change Research found 60 per cent of those polled said they were more productive. That said, studies have shown that home workers can be more productive if — and only if — they have an undisturbed working routine and a functioning home office.

Big desk energy
“[The virus] has exposed how quickly people can pivot to digital models,” says Martha Lane Fox, Lastminute.com founder, former digital czar and government post-Covid culture adviser.

But she points out that lockdown has also exposed the alarming inequality in the UK workforce. Offices are generally egalitarian spaces: same computers, same systems, same lousy canteen. From home “we are not equal”, points out Richard Clarke, partner at property consultancy Matthews & Goodman. “Some have a dedicated desk in a study larger than a modern flat. Others have coffee tables, piled with books to rest their laptops (of varying quality) on, or kitchen tables that need to be cleared at meal times. Some enjoy fast broadband while others compete for limited bandwidth with gamers and other WFHers.” Lower-income households are far less likely to see homeworking as a long-term solution.

There are further costs: research from LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation has found that a quarter of office workers report their mental health has suffered as a result of the pandemic.

Where do we go now?
For decades forecasters have predicted the death of the office — and yet it lumbers on. In the Financial Times this month, writer Lucy Kellaway pointed out that Jasper Conran informed her of the office’s imminent extinction in the early Nineties (for what it’s worth, Kellaway believes we’d miss the office’s structure, merriment, purpose and kinship). Even Bruce Daisley, author of The Joy of Work, and Twitter’s Europe, Middle East and Africa vice-president for eight years (he left in January), agrees that “we’re at risk, silently and invisibly, of losing all the good bits” —such as the spontaneous ingredient of innovation that often happens person-to-person (but not, crucially, in tedious meetings).

Reinvention, however, seems both imminent and necessary. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on working women. According to the House of Commons, 40 per cent of women in the UK work part-time — and part-time workers are considered a lower priority during the pandemic, says Deborah Wosskow, co-founder of the AllBright Club, the women-only workspace and mentoring network. “Many women’s earnings will not recover.” Wosskow also describes entrepreneurship as “the last bastion of gender inequality” and points to the lack of women on FTSE 500 boards. We need more women at the top. “Two-thirds of our members are thinking about our career pivot post-pandemic, which shows that women are rethinking what work is,” she says.

But there are silver linings to this new world. Daisley thinks “de-densification” could be good for regeneration in two ways: professional jobs can be spread across the country; and the housing problem in city areas can be eased. Total demand for commercial real estate in London had dropped over the past three years as companies squeeze staff into ever smaller office spaces. But “commercial real estate is braced for a tsunami of people trying to move out,” he says.

Co-working is set for (another) boom. Silva says Second Home is getting a lot of interest from firms who, due to social distancing, need twice the office space for employees. Firms can also rethink where their money goes. “The old rule of thumb is that you spend 90 per cent of costs on salary, nine per cent on rent and one per cent on utilities — phone bills, WiFi and electricity,” he says. “A lot of firms will be thinking about where that nine per cent can be better reinvested.” But he’s not confident that will be reinvested in salaries. These are straws to clutch at. But from a cramped kitchen desk, we can dream, can’t we?

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