Covid-19: how companies rethink their corporate HQ?
Companies are increasingly looking into how to provide spaces that encourage and support more flexible ways of working
Amid changing work styles and evolving expectations about the office environment, companies are exploring alternative models beyond big, densely packed corporate HQs.
With non-territorial spaces now common in many offices, along with a growing shift towards flexible hours and greater use of technology to connect teams, models like Hub & Club are becoming more viable – and appealing.
“There’s definitely more discussion around Hub & Club among firms of all sizes in recent months,” says Sunica Monard, workspace strategy business developer at JLL.
“COVID-19 has undoubtedly prompted some organisations to rethink their portfolios but there was already a growing acknowledgment that employee engagement and providing the right spaces according to organisational processes was key. With the rise of coworking and work from home policies in recent years some companies already had space in shared offices alongside their HQ.”
Now, many big companies are considering adopting this approach too. Back in April, Barclays CEO Jes Staley said: “There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy...the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”
The right space for the job
Many companies with several floors in a building already have workplace strategies in place that define spaces suited to social and collaborative activities, concentration work and meeting with employees moving around according to the type of work they’re busy with. The Hub & Club model provides the opportunity for organisations to offer this level of choice and flexibility to their employees above and beyond just an adoption of Work from Home policies, but also offers the chance for an intermediate third space in-between home and the main HQ or campus.
“The COVID-19 experience has proved that knowledge-workers truly have the ability to adapt their ways of working and that we need to be ready to maximise on the lessons learnt over the past few months.” says Monard. “We’re now on the cusp of switching things around; the first question is now what’s the task in hand, then the second question is where is it best to carry this task out? Not vice versa.”
The club is where the big internal and client facing meetings would happen – akin in style and atmosphere to many of the private members’ establishments that have surged in recent years in many global cities. Centrally located, they have limited desk space and are designed to encourage social interaction, support learning and knowledge-sharing all while promoting a company’s brand.
Hubs, in contrast, offer employees the choice of avoiding the full commute, while still having the opportunity to get out of the house. Located outside of the core business districts, employees can book a variety of spaces on demand and access usual office facilities such as meeting rooms, pods and breakout areas.
“The hub and the club need to support one another - but hubs are not outpost back offices,” says Monard. “Instead, each provides a suitable space to not only facilitate the type of work an employee needs to get done on a particular day, but also accommodates a work-life balance not offered to many pre-COVID.”
Hubs could be more accessible than city centre buildings and reduce the amount of time spent commuting – one of the key factors around half of people have enjoyed while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to JLL research.
Finding a balance
With future COVID-19 outbreaks a real possibility, safeguarding staff is top of mind – and spreading employees out across multiple sites can help with social distancing and limit the number of people they come into contact with, not to mention allowing some sites to reopen if others are closed for deep cleaning.
Longer-term, firms could also find they have a wider choice of talent to tap into as the location of employees could become less important.
“More than ever, people want to work for forward-looking companies that offer flexibility and create a positive workplace experience,” Monard adds.
“We know that people like going into the office for the social interaction, but location is still a key factor. The pandemic has shown people it’s possible to have more of a work-life balance, so they don’t want to spend hours every day just getting into the office.”
Yet there are challenges to implementing a Hub & Club model. Employees may live across a wide area especially in large, densely populated metropolitan areas and public transport connections may be difficult if not travelling into the centre.
“Companies in major capitals like London or Paris may find that identifying the right location for these new workplaces is a struggle,” Monard explains. “The ideal scenario is a combination of a well-located club near a major public transport interchange and a series of smaller sites that offer sophisticated amenities at a fraction of the commute.”
It may be early days for the Hub & Club model but Monard believes it will gain traction as companies reassess their space needs and continue to focus on creating engaging and collaborative workplaces suited to next normal expectations from employees.
“People increasingly want to work according to their needs and preferences and companies need to find ways to facilitate that if they’re to get the best out of their employees,” she concludes.