How will work, work?

I caught up with the wonderfully energetic and positively infectious, Kerry Carmichael, Head of Coworking at The Neighbourhood Office. 

We chatted about Kerry’s thoughts on ‘what work will look like’ in the near future and in the months to come.

“I feel really lucky to be based where I am, Bermondsey Street seems to have created its own little pocket. There has been some level of activity throughout, in the little coffee shops, on the street and the general community. It feels like everyone here wants to succeed together” 

One of the key drivers for Kerry and The Neighbourhood Office has been maintaining close contact with their members; the cowork space is predominantly geared toward small to medium enterprises who specialise in environmental / climate / sustainability fields. Whilst Kerry has been present in their space throughout the crisis, she has been delighted to see other people returning too. “It has often come down to the little things like making sure post is forwarded efficiently and all communications are clear. Our members have said that through regular updates, they have still felt like they belonged to the office, were a part of the changes and that they really understand what we are doing to make them safe. They felt prioritised. 

We have also been able to offer a ‘membership freeze’ and worked with members to find the best for to them. Our main objective is to ensure our members feel safe and relaxed when they return. It is important to remember that the return to work experience is as different for each company as it is for each individual and it is imperative to find the right balance between easing anxieties whilst still providing a hospitable and functional service, without hindering their operation. We found the best way to address this is by holding return to work inductions and walking each person through the changes, assuring them that these measures do not impact their day to day working but are there for their comfort. These have been fantastically received by members, and gave them the opportunity to comfortably raise their personal concerns and allows us to address these directly. This has really shown that face to face communications is invaluable to building relationships and trust.” 

Through speaking with the members, Kerry has found that there is a longing for the social interaction that physical presence in the office provides. “Through Zoom etc. many find that yes, the work gets done but it misses the spontaneous bursts of creativity and ideas, and that is not always good for business as a whole. People tend to hold back because they know that talking over each other or interjecting at speed can have a detrimental effect on the connection.”

There is no doubt that traditional working hours are changing along with traditional working environments – lets be honest, those changes have driven the success of the coworking space – so to keep up with those demands, the challenge for providers is to continue to offer ultimate flexibility at a cost that is fair. 

“As a small business we can be very agile and offer flexibility without the constraints others have. We are talking with many of our members about part-time options now. Use may be limited to 2-3 days a week and divided between projects or department. This will allow them to come together to formulate ideas and divide the workload before heading back off to WFH scenarios to work on the nitty gritty. What we understand to be fundamental to success is the opportunity to get together safely. 

Also, enquiries from larger businesses have increased. They now want to look at 40 – 50% of their previous capacity and, at times, arrange short-term contracts or even space for individuals, and we are able to support on that. Through this, we have opened up new membership models to address immediate market needs, we now offer daily and weekly passes for both open desks and private offices. The private office day passes have flown, with large companies booking a private space to be able to bring a team together as a one off whilst their large office buildings remain closed. It’s been important to them that we are COVID compliant and being able to assure them of this was key.

Interestingly, The Neighbourhood Office is home to The Climate Hub, which offers advice to businesses and government bodies on positive change, good health and greener habits. This has come to the forefront of peoples minds recently as we have all witnessed, first-hand, what an impact ‘staying at home’ can have on the planet in a relatively short space of time. 

“We are huge supporters of this and will remain true to our ethos – we have promised to support small businesses ethically and now we view every change with that in mind. Again, it comes down to the little things sometimes, single use items are all recycled, recyclable and compostable and we have gone to some lengths to ensure that for our members’ peace of mind.”

On that more practical side, many steps have been taken to ensure physical health and safety for members. All recommended distancing measures are in place along with contactless temperature checks, touch free door openings, desk mats and a track and trace registration system. Kerry has put together a brilliant Return To Work Guide that is well worth a peek if you are concerned.

“There is a certain amount of technology that is worth investing in, along with changes to buildings, but we must keep in mind that recommendations will also change and we don’t want our members to feel alienated or infringed upon. We are working on 6 monthly milestones for adaptations.”

In the meantime, the ‘Theatre Of Cleaning’ will be in full swing. The once hidden and virtually unspoken of service now takes pride of place. “Largely it is common sense-driven, but there no room to take any chances, in-house house-keeping is now in place along with weekly electrostatic cleaning and that information is being shared with members. They are getting to see under-the-hood of our operation. Surprisingly, the change that has been commented on the most, is the desk sanitation stickers confirming to members that the desk has been sanitised since the last user. It gives a real sense of comfort and assurance”

So, with the practical side well and truly under control, what about the all important area of mental well-being for members, colleagues and employees? “To begin with, everyone was in crisis mode and had more immediate concerns to deal with, but we have now seen the mental health is making ground and remains vital to productivity. In many ways this is directly linked to face to face interaction and the spontaneity we mentioned before. Our aim is to prevent people feeling isolated by offering them the best option to come together, safely.”

Small agile businesses like The Neighbourhood Office are proving time and time again that there is always a solution to a challenge, no matter how big or daunting it may seem to begin with.

Sheila Ingram, 

with Kerry Carmichael, Head of Coworking at The Neighbourhood Office. 

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Date Published: 1st July 2020