By Maxine Carr, Economic research officer at the City of London Corporation
‘Future Proofing the Square Mile’ conference
The research team was recently invited to attend ‘City of London: future proofing the Square Mile’, hosted by New London Architecture, sponsored by Berwin Leighton Paisner and in association with the City of London Corporation and the City Property Association.
The conference brought approximately 150 delegates from various organisations to the Guildhall to attend several presentations all looking at how the City can retain its competitiveness in the short and long term future.
The presentations were broad-ranging and featured ‘how will tall buildings meet future occupier needs?’, ‘future proofing the Square Mile’, and ‘what is in store for Aldgate?’ - all crucial topics of consideration for ensuring sustainable growth for the City. However, what stood out to me was the session on ‘new ways of working’ which looked specifically of the future of the City office.
The rise of co-working
It is increasingly recognised that office environments have a direct impact on the quality of work produced, not the mention the wellbeing of staff. Firms such as Google, Dropbox and Airbnb are famous for their well-designed offices that promote collaboration, creativity and innovation, and indeed act as a tool to attract new talent in their own right. New types of co-working offices – where multiple and different types of companies rent office space, often on rolling contracts – are springing up in all major cities worldwide, at an estimated rate of 4.5 new spaces per day.
Co-working spaces are often seen as the solution for freelancers and small start-ups who are looking for desks at an affordable rate and want to benefit from the networking that occurs when several organisations share one office space.
In one sense, the City of London has its roots in co-working and innovative working practices. As Jack Pringle (Managing Director of Pringle, Brandon Perkins + Will) explained, London’s coffee houses that allowed for networking and creative processes are building blocks of the London we know today. For example, in 1688, Edward Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower Street became the hot-spot for marine insurance, and it developed into today’s international insurance market: Lloyds of London.
Yet, over time, there has been a shift away from this fluid conception of an office space. Today, most modern offices are more likely to comply to a more uniform design, mainly communal workspaces divided into personal cubicles.
New ways of working in the City
But now, a new direction is taking hold. As Mr Pringle commented, “the tin ceiling is so last century!” as he discussed the constant need for the City to adapt its supply of office spaces to the meet the demand of changing work styles (for example, more mobile working) and changing occupiers. Demand is shifting because there are now more freelancers and SMEs in the City than ever before, explained Rohan Silver, Co-founder of co-working space, Second Home. Furthermore, despite the City very much remaining a financial services hub, its proximity to Tech City is leading to an increase in the Media, IT and Communications sector within the Square Mile.
Despina Katsikakis from Transforming Workplace noted that organisational structures are being eroded and are becoming less stiff and more flexible, with a new focus on sharing knowledge. Certification systems such as BREEAM and LEED are now commonly used to demonstrate the sustainability of buildings – yet these are limited to the buildings themselves rather than the people that use them. Therefore, the shift towards improving the design of offices is about promoting wellbeing for staff as it is about providing spaces for making more innovative, and therefore productive, workers.
Here in the Research team at the City of London Corporation, we actively take an interest in these issues and have recently worked with consultants Ramidus and the City Property Association to produce two reports: Future Workstyles and Future Workplaces in the City of London and Serviced Offices and Agile Occupiers in the City of London.
WeWork’s Co-Working Spaces in the City
Even though the concept of co-working has been around for some time, the City is only just beginning to establish itself as a provider of co-working spaces. During the afternoon, the conference took to the outdoors where delegates were divided up into five groups for a walking tour of different themes. I chose the WeWork tour of two of their co-working offices, located in Moorgate and Spitalfields.
WeWork explained that their spaces have been specially designed to promote creativity, with a variety of different types of spaces on offer to suit the needs of the different types of people who work there- including freelancers, SMEs and even teams from larger organisations such as KPMG. Lily Choi gave a presentation on the company and informed the group that a massive 60% of WeWork’s member businesses have done transactions with one another, providing evidence for the claim that the space they provide is successful at fostering collaboration between its members.
Co-working is indeed a trend that the City cannot ignore. Adapting to the ever-changing demands of workers and businesses alike is crucial for the City to remain a competitive location for business.