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Design District: A new approach to flexible working space for the post covid world

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The world of work is undergoing the biggest paradigm shift since the internet. For tech businesses up and down the UK, a year of lockdowns has led senior teams to examine, interrogate and adapt their existing working models, and many are starting to question their assumptions about what the office is actually for. In the post-Covid world, the workspace has a different role to play. It can no longer simply be a place for people to come and work; in order to adapt to the reality of working life after Covid, it must become a space that fosters collaboration, and a crucible in which company culture is forged.

Tech has long been ahead of the curve in its adoption of remote working, but businesses recognise they cannot live on remote work alone. It’s true that projects can be successfully mapped out on a Zoom call, but thus far, there is no tech platform that can truly replicate the essential human element – the chance encounters, spontaneous conversations and shared moments of connection that spark new ideas and shape company culture. The individual’s work may not have suffered as a result of working from home — in some cases it might even have improved — but few would argue that collaborative work hasn’t been logistically compromised, and that quality has diminished as a result. When a task demands the equal and simultaneous participation of multiple people, it helps immeasurably to have them in the same room.

And what about onboarding new starters? Handing them a company handbook might explain the systems that underpin the business, but it won’t tell them anything about the social and emotional reality of working there. Culture needs to be passed on in person.

There is also a significant number of people for whom working from home is less than ideal — their homes might lack the space or the privacy necessary to work effectively full-time. For many of us, a commute — however short — provides essential punctuation to the day, space to decompress and a transition between work mode and relaxation, increasing the work/life balance of employees.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, for most businesses, the old-school office approach is outdated, but a pure remote-working model is insufficient. We don’t want the isolation and monotony of working from home; nor do we want to return to a relentless 9-to-5 world of unnecessary meetings, office politics and having to squash our domestic lives into a couple of hours each evening.

 A third way — an approach that taps into the benefits of both — must be possible. Now, as we stand on the verge of a post-Covid reality, and businesses emerge into ‘the new normal’, the need for a more flexible workplace where employees want to be (rather than have to) is becoming an ever-greater priority.

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A new working model

Now approaching completion on Greenwich Peninsula in London, Design District offers an insight into what this new, more balanced way of working might look like. Initially conceived as a permanent hub for the creative industries, the district has been taking shape throughout the last year, and has therefore been in a unique position to adapt its offering and infrastructure as the need for a new workplace model became apparent.

The insight at the heart of the concept is the notion that any business district is an ecosystem. The buildings and businesses within it do not operate in isolation, but in complex, interdependent ways — and the right masterplanning, design and operational thinking can elevate a cluster of discrete enterprises into a successful community.

The masterplan recognises there is no single perfect one-size-fits-all workspace. Different tasks and individuals call for different settings. Sometimes people will need secluded private desk space for head-down, deep-focus work. Sometimes they’ll work better in the buzz of a busy lounge space. Sometimes they’ll need acoustically optimised video-conferencing areas for communicating with remote teams and clients. And, sometimes, they’ll want to take things outside and brainstorm over coffee in the sunshine.

A combination of ample space and built-in agility means Design District is able to respond quickly to a company’s changing needs — whether it’s scaling a team or streamlining its operations. With 16 unique buildings housing large-scale offices, spacious studios and versatile workplaces of every size — as well as an inclusive members club for creatives (Bureau), event areas and an array of outdoor squares and courtyards — Design District ensures that there’s always quiet space to retreat to, as well as extra room available for collaboration and spreading out. Alongside, a central communal Canteen filled with greenery offering a bar and diverse food outlets, a rooftop basketball court, a district-wide networking and events programme, and the wider attractions of Greenwich Peninsula combine to ensure that Design District will be a positive and inspiring place to work — and might even tempthesitant employees back to the office.

With employees free to work in the way that best suits them — from open, collaborative and energetic to quiet, calm and concentrated — Design District offers tech organisations of all scales an opportunity to adopt a progressive working model that enjoys the advantages of a shared physical workspace without sacrificing the flexibility and benefits to the wellbeing of working from home.

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The financial incentive

It’s not just individual employees themselves that benefit. In response to the economic challenges that so many enterprises have faced in the wake of the coronavirus, Design District has announced a 12-month reduction to a flat rate of just £5 per square foot rent for any business — of any size — taking up a tenancy. That represents a discount of as much as 80% and is intended to kickstart recovery by enabling tech businesses to secure workspace in one of London’s most architecturally significant developments in recent years, while also allowing them to focus resources on business development, marketing, employees and growth, rather than worrying about making rent.

In tandem with this, Design District developed a tenancy scheme known as the On/Off Office, through which businesses and individuals can combine the convenience and community of a physical office with the freedom of flexible working. There are options to rent office space for one to three days a week, with the benefit of an active and supportive landlord on call to respond quickly with solutions and advice. This provides all the benefits of a permanent workplace, saves business owners the headache of physically reconfiguring their spaces to suit the post-covid landscape, eliminates the stresses and expenditure of maintenance, and comes at a significantly lower cost.

By placing employees and businesses in a broad creative ecosystem, empowering the individual to choose their optimal workspace setting rather than anchoring them to a desk, and by giving business owners financial room to manoeuvre, Design District offers a workspace model that is likely to suit employers and employees equally well — an approach that responds to the lessons a year of remote working has taught us, while restoring the perks and pleasures of a fixed workspace.

Choosing the right workplace for your team can feel like a challenge. To talk about how 12 months rent relief might benefit your business and learn more about the supportive neighbourhood on Greenwich Peninsula, contact Alex at Design District on +44 (0)20 3981 2426 or email [email protected].