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What will the workplace of the future look like?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 13 May 2021

ICAEW Insights explores where the chartered accountant of the future might work, with recent trends including local co-working spaces and building communal office space into new housing developments.

In the third part of its Blueprints for the future of work series, ICAEW Insights speaks with the co-founder of a flexible working business and a partner in an engineering consultancy firm to discuss how the workplace of the future could be set up.

“A full-time city centre office is a hangover from the requirements of the past that no longer exist”, explains Laura Beales, co-founder of the flexible workspace business, Tally Workspace. “It’s difficult to see how companies can justify asking their employees to commute full-time for 300 hours annually when the past year has shown us most office work can be done remotely. People used to go into an office because that was the only place where there was equipment, whereas now we can work from anywhere.”

ACA-trained at KPMG for six years, Beales then went on to work in a range of start-ups before starting Tally Workspace alongside fellow co-founder, Jules Robertson. The company is a B2B marketplace for workspace, which allows businesses to book workspaces - whether that is a private office for a day or a day pass in a coworking venue - and for venues to list their available workspaces, similar to Airbnb.

Employee incentive opportunity

For financial professionals, Beales sees flexible working as a ‘no-brainer’. However, when considering how their workplaces will be set up in future, many companies are assuming that all employees can work from home when they are not in the office - something that can be problematic, especially for less well-paid, more junior employees who often don’t have a suitable workspace.

Beales believes this is something finance people should be interested in because companies will make significant savings whilst employees see the provision of local workspace as one of the most valuable benefits a company can offer them. 

“It’s a win-win. The company provides its staff with the ability to work wherever you want and with the facilities you need. This is going to be vital as employees now really care about flexibility,” adds Beales.

“I think it's going to be difficult for employers that do not embrace flexible ways of working and enable their employees to work where they work best. They're going to really lose out on the best talent and struggle to keep their employees engaged when other companies are letting people go to their local co-working space, and really supporting them to balance work and life. People have individual needs and flexibility to support this is becoming increasingly important.”

Is there a shift out of London?

Beales says she is seeing an increasing number of people who live in London’s zone two and three looking for workspace close to their homes. There has also been an uptick in people deciding they are happier to move further away from central London because they can afford to either buy property or find a home with more space.

“We have also seen a shift away from companies employing people in London,” says Beales. “If these people don't need to come into the office every day, then they don't really need to be based in London, do they?”

Certainly not, according to David Hancox, Chief Operating Officer and Partner in engineering consultancy firm, Structa, who thinks the time and effort involved in reverting to old ways would be unproductive.

“If you wanted to choose and want to live in London, that's fine, you do that probably for a lifestyle thing, but you'd have to necessarily do work”, says Hancox.

Hancox believes people will start to move out of London as they can get more for their money. “I think you might see prices in London residentially depressed and prices outside going up. There is quite a lot of government support at the moment for house building in terms of stamp duty and help to buy, which will also help drive prices up. That just accelerates a trend that was maybe always there”, adds Hancox.

House-building trend: more home office space in new developments

Engineering consultants Structa’s key role is to design something economical and cost-effective to build for clients. Being part of various projects, some worth in excess of £250m, activity in the sector is high at the moment and working on many projects has allowed Hancox to spot a trend emerging.

“Both national and regional housebuilders are thinking about including home offices or study spaces in their design plans. They're building in areas where you could have a desk when working from home because I think most people are probably going to want this space going forward”, he says.

Hancox also said that on several developments they have built central hubs - communal business areas where people can rent permanent space to work alongside others that live near them, as opposed to people from their office.

“It’s a slightly different way of working, but I think it's going to become much more mainstream”, Hancox concludes. “People aren’t thinking about what the next stage is, they've already done a lot of that thinking and it's already starting to come through in planning and development stages.

“It's not a future thing, it's here and now.” 

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