The Neue Industry
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The Neue Industry

Back to the Office: What can we learn from trends in the UK?

Photo by @myleon on Unsplash

At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us wondered what the working world would look like when we emerged on the other side. A year and a half later, we’re still not entirely sure. But as we continue to navigate lockdowns and changing work environments, one thing is becoming clear: the office is not dead. It’s just…different.

Our portfolio company, Office App — who is actively getting teams back to work through its comprehensive office engagement and safety platform — has let us know that UK firms have shown the most interest in the company’s product. Based on Office App’s findings, our hunch is that the UK will be a proxy for the rest of Europe on how people will go back to offices.

We wanted to get the scoop from Office App on the trends they’re seeing in the UK. We spoke directly to the company’s Co-founder and CCO, Iain Thompson, about changes in the post-Covid world, what kinds of patterns they’re seeing and how this might translate to the rest of Europe in the next several months. Some of the findings weren’t quite what we would expect.

What trends are you seeing in terms of sales? What features are customers asking for right now, and how are they using them?

We’ve seen a huge increase in demand in the UK, especially around health and safety and the controlled return to work. In general, customers are looking for insights into what is being used, by whom (for health checks) and how. The more data they have, the better.

Demand has been specifically centered around desk and meeting room booking, as well as occupancy insights for both. This has been coupled with pre-booking health and safety questionnaires that serve to optimize trust and safety, with features such as Find a Colleague, so you know when certain colleagues are going to be in the office, and can maintain effective team collaboration by booking a desk near them.

Check-in and check-out features are also high on the list right now. With these activated, companies can ensure they’re receiving a steady stream of usage insights, which makes the process smarter over time. Lastly, touchless features such as Building Access and Visitor Check-in — used in locations that are traditionally a high-touch areas — can now be navigated with less risk of contamination.

Do you have any numbers you can share on these insights?

Employees are using the office more often as a place to meet. The average meetings per office user has increased from an average of 1.7 meetings per week in the beginning of 2020 to 2.1 meetings per week currently (+29%).

People are also spending more time in meetings than before. The average meeting length increased from an average 2.25 hours per meeting in the beginning of 2020, to 2.44 currently (+8%).

Finally, employees are booking more desks. The average weekly desks booked per user increased from 0.6 since mid-2020, to 0.8 desks booked on a weekly basis now — an increase of 33% in less than a year.

What are landlords looking for, specifically?

There are a few key differences between landlords and tenants (we call them corporates). Corporates are leading the movement back to office, as they know their employees are eager to return. Landlords are essentially looking to bring reassurance and flexibility to their tenants. This might come in the form of communication tools — community tools that allow for better two-way engagement, landlord inventory (i.e office space that can be easily booked short-term), and a host of sensors measuring factors such as air quality and energy usage, allowing for cost-saving insights — that can flexibly meet tenants’ needs.

What are corporates looking for? What are they doing right now to prepare for going back?

As mentioned, the corporates are leading the way in return to work. We’re even being asked by some of our landlord customers to present our learnings around this to their boards, as they can benefit from understanding how their tenants will feel most comfortable returning to the office. Corporates are looking for desk booking, room booking, check in/out for both, as well as health & safety checks. Maxim Park in Scotland and Shelborn in Glasgow are great examples of this in action.

“In the future, people may spend less time in offices. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean time spent there will be less relevant.”

How is software supporting this activity?

We can list plenty right off the bat:

  • A flexible, reliable solution that offers plenty of room for changing environments and circumstances
  • Fast implementation without any hardware needed
  • Integration & connection of existing services
  • Continued communication
  • Touchless operation, utilizing personal devices on mobile & laptop
  • Data insights: knowing what is being utilized, insights for trust & safety, isolating trends

Are corporates planning to differentiate vaccinated from non vaccinated?

Not that we’re currently hearing, but this of course is a point that is coming up more often in general. This discussion will have to evolve before it directly hits Office App.

The flexibility and agnostic structure of our platform will work as a very solid and dependable solution given any changes that can occur with this subject. We certainly see this as an opportunity to be the go-to in changing environments.

“We believe a team that stays in touch with its members is a strong team.”

With time spent in the office seemingly becoming less relevant, are other office metrics (e.g. engagement, community time, communication) becoming more relevant? How are you helping landlords and corporates optimize these new metrics?

In the future, people may spend less time in offices. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean time spent there will be less relevant. If anything, it’s the opposite. As seen above, people are using the office more as a place to meet. That means safety will also be a top priority.

Office App’s dashboards enable landlords and corporates to prepare for, monitor and improve on their post-Covid plan, ensuring that everyone stays safe and happy while simultaneously enabling an increase in ROI (e.g. through control over building metrics such as climate, lighting and occupancy).

What are your lessons learned in 2020?

2020 has taught us, perhaps obviously, that things have changed. This is both good and bad.

Regardless, it tells us that, in returning to the office, you need a plan. We’ve spent the past year creating such a plan, of which the number-one priority is keeping you and your employees safe when they return to work.

What is your take on how Covid has impacted the future of communities and how they’re created, grown and sustained?

COVID has taught us the importance of communication, which is essential in the creation and growth of communities. Whether it’s sending out important updates to your team about your office, exchanging messages of support and encouragement or booking rooms or desks — we believe a team that stays in touch with its members is a strong team. This goes for both companies and tenants working alongside other tenants in the same building. Communication is key.

Any final thoughts on your role in the way people are going back to work?

Office App provides an integrated tenant experience to its users, paving the way for a two-way channel of communication that has been essential in the past year (and will remain so). No matter where employees are — at the office, home office, or on the go — we’re enabling them to remain connected, close and agile. That is all more valuable now than we ever thought possible.

Looking for more information on how to get back to the office safely? Request an Office App demo here.

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