One of the reasons for TX bringing me on board is that they recognise the increased need to support occupiers by bringing a personal approach to the letting process - one that reflects human sentiment in a post-pandemic world. In my previous role I had made my company's HQ ‘Covid-secure’ and I quickly came to learn the importance of human sentiment and how the office needed to be more than just safe.
In a few short weeks in March last year, we quickly adapted from being in the office all day, five days a week, to working remotely from home. The coronavirus pandemic brought a huge shift to the way we all lived and worked. The morning coffee with colleagues, the weekly company meetings, and the Friday team lunches soon became a distant memory.
At first, we relished the flexible way of working. We were given the invaluable gift of more time; which we spent baking banana bread, kickstarting new hobbies, or finally running that 5km that we had all been telling ourselves to do for months.
However, as the months continued, we began to feel like we had too much time; too much time to think, too much time without seeing people, and too much time sat in the same room. It was clear the need for the office was still there. Not just for the business but for the people behind it.
We had to make the office safe so it could re-open, but we didn’t want to be short-sighted in our approach. We knew this wasn’t a temporary way of working and that it needed to be functional for now, and also fit for the future. We asked ourselves key questions to guarantee our office worked in the way we needed it to.
What does the office need to be?
Our three main challenges were:
- How do we create a safe place for team collaboration?
- How do we create hybrid working solutions for a team that now splits time in the office with time elsewhere?
- How do we communicate clearly and maintain our company culture?
To allow teams to be able to meet in person, we had to re-evaluate how the office could be used. We changed the maximum capacity of each meeting room, added anti-bacterial hand stations every 10 metres around the office, and created 2 metre distancing between desks. ThirdWay’s Technology Director worked with TX to adapt our in-house app so employees could use it to book desks. We allowed people to sit wherever they wanted to give people some choice and autonomy, a sense of confidence and control.
Next, we thought about the constant use of video conferencing. Our open plan office made it difficult for lots of people to be video calling at the same time and that became even more challenging over the summer as confidence grew and the office increased in capacity. We quickly adapted our smallest meeting rooms into individual pods and adapted four of our other meeting rooms into ‘Zoom’ rooms, installing new microphones and webcams to enhance the user experience. Teams could now be split between home and office to take group meetings effectively.
Team culture and wellbeing is hugely important. Now more than ever, it’s importance to see your people as individuals because everybody’s situation is different, and each person's sentiment is different regarding the pandemic. We surveyed our whole company to understand how they felt about returning to the office, and surveyed people after they’d been to the office to understand their experiences and perceptions. We sent regular email updates and invited everyone to air their questions or concerns so they could be addressed. We kept our weekly team meeting in the diary every Thursday which was hosted on Zoom but attended by some in person at the office. We moved our face-to-face societies online, and we introduced online breakout rooms to make sure there were always touchpoints within the week for people to get together and not talk about work.
It’s this real-life experience I draw upon as Host to help people feel safe and confident in their plans to return to work.
TX Hosts and Design Hosts work closely together to enhance the personal connection prospective occupiers feel towards a space, whether through tailoring the design or by offering comfort and understanding of how the space can work for them and their teams.
Moving office during a pandemic can be scary as every company’s team and culture dynamics will have changed. We will all need to adapt the ways we were once used to, to keep the office a safe and attractive place to be. At TX, our understanding of people is as important as our understanding of workplace design. The two are intimately connected. That’s how we create the most efficient and best spaces to meet tenant needs.