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Savills’ Clare Bailey on workplaces of the future

Clare Bailey is Director of Commercial Research at Savills’ Head Office in London. An expert in office design, Clare is regularly interviewed and speaks about the need for diversity, fostering wellbeing and nurturing connection, Clare shares with us her thoughts on how businesses can prepare for the future.

Tell us about how you started in commercial research?

I have worked in property research for over 15 years, starting off as a data analyst in our city office. Things were very different and the office sector has transformed dramatically over the last few years. The preconception that landlords are distant rent collectors has changed, and a far more active and engaging landlord is required from tenants. This has resulted in new opportunities for landlords ranging from physical or building-related issues such as the design and layout of a building to fostering community within an office and exploring different leasing agreements. Real estate is also being recognised as a recruitment and productivity tool by occupiers. Human Resources, employees and advisors are much more involved and heavily influential in the procurement of office space for corporate occupiers now. I’ve also loved seeing places like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds develop and grow over the last 15 years with the quality of regional office space significantly improved. Long gone are the days when if you wanted flagship office space in the UK to impress visitors you were limited to London to attract the top talent. The top regional cities now boast some of the most exciting prime offices, more than suitable for a showcase corporate HQ and often achieving higher environmental standards, a factor that can help reinforce a relocation decision given ESGs (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) rapid rise up the corporate agenda.

You champion wellbeing and diversity in the workplace, including the need for flexible working. Can you tell us how this came about?  

When I went for my interview for Director it was pointed out to me that the very fact I have been with Savills for 15 years, starting as a data analyst and working my way to Director whilst having three children, is by itself flying the flag. We need more role models for women and men, showing you can take time off and still be successful, and BAME role models within senior roles for younger people to aspire to. On my first maternity leave eight years ago, flexible working wasn’t widely seen at Savills but my boss was very happy about it. I remember him saying that he would rather I came back part-time and was happy, than full time and secretly resenting it. Even recently he said to remember that I am in no way valued less because I am part-time. I think I have always been lucky as I have had many friends who had completely different experiences and have had to leave their jobs due to absolutely no flexibility. It is wrong and ultimately those companies are missing out on retaining some great talent. I hope Covid will normalise working from home part of the week to give everyone a better work-life balance. We also need to see diversity catered for in office buildings, with creches and nursing rooms to normalise parents in the workplace.  I am currently working with a colleague on the impact of Covid on diversity in the workplace and we hope to highlight some very important issues.

You write about biophilic and flexible design. What do you think the offices of the future will look like?   

Covid-19 has accelerated pre-existing trends in the commercial property sector, from health and wellbeing to activity-based working. The office post-Covid will be as much about culture, learning, and connectivity as it is about productivity. While we expect there will be fewer people travelling to city centre offices each day, those that do will have a greater number of interactions, making those offices even more important to those occupiers. We need that chemistry of the unexpected and those serendipitous encounters that we just can’t replicate over Zoom. There is going to be a shift towards new types of working within the office, providing a flexible office environment that suits every type of employee. The use of quality materials and building specifications are of the utmost importance in creating these types of quality spaces. Flexibility is critical, not particularly in terms of being able to reconfigure, but that the spaces themselves are consciously designed in order to support a variety of functions.  

You were recently involved in The Loneliness Lab which is trying to tackle loneliness through the built environment. Can you tell us a little about this?

The Loneliness Lab is a global collective of people and organisations on a mission to design connections in the places where we live, work and play. I started working with this great group of people during the first lockdown and haven’t looked back.  More than half of the world’s population is now living in cities, with the UN projecting by 2030 a predicted 5 billion of us will live in built-up areas. With isolation and loneliness a common side effect of city life, we asked the question How do we design spaces to nurture connection? Post-Covid we have a unique opportunity to recalibrate a better work-life balance, not just in terms of personal mental health, but also in our relationships with our neighbours and the wider community.  With the way we work changing, people are also looking for engaging workspaces in a stimulating environment close to home, so it’s also important to provide a high street that promotes both wellbeing and a sense of community, and work now has the ability to become even more local. With the gig economy set to grow even more post-Covid, creating flexible workspaces in local centres will boost footfall and help support shops and amenities in the surrounding area as well as create community and connection. Co-working cafés also need to be considered in the mix, with the British Coffee Association estimating around one in five people visited a coffee shop in the UK on a daily basis. With cafés a magnet for self-employed workers, co-working cafés could be the ideal launchpad for start-ups. My tick box for the perfect working environment is what I call the three Cs: community, culture and collaboration. The bottom line is that by designing spaces that nurture relationships, we can start to reduce the very real costs of loneliness while working towards getting the UK economy back on track. The best and most effective way to reduce loneliness is by designing in connection. Office buildings must become more than simply a space to work, and neighbourhoods places we can truly live, work and play in. Businesses need to think of themselves as public amenities with amazing experiences attached, nurturing the people who live around them. It is in these ways that we can build connected communities, both within and outside our offices.

Has Covid-19 been a catalyst for larger corporations having smaller headquarters in London supported by regional hubs? Do you think this is something that will be embraced?

Yes, I do.  The UK’s crash course in Zoom persuaded some businesses they don’t need to locate so many of their staff in the London HQ. Geographically, things are becoming far more fluid with a strong case for more satellite offices in cities around the UK, such as Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. This isn’t just Northshoring to cut costs. Businesses increasingly recognise the opportunity in enticing new and retain existing staff. As Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “when you limit hiring to people who live in a small number of big cities or are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, have different backgrounds, have different perspectives.” Over 30,000 students start at Manchester’s four universities every year, and the city already enjoys the highest graduate retention rate in Britain outside London. Employers who are hoping to tap into that talent will need a hub in the Greater Manchester area to take advantage of this diverse talent pool.

Some people will be reluctant to return to the office, either finding working from home suits them better or due to fear. What do you think are some measures businesses can introduce to retain their staff once offices are reopened?

The digital age has enabled people of all ages to work remotely more than ever before and Covid-19 has created the biggest home working experiment of our time. However, initial research suggests that even digital-savvy younger workers still crave personal, face-to-face interaction.  Relationships are key. The bottom line is that by designing spaces that nurture relationships, we can start to attract employees back to the office. The best and most effective way to make the office an integral part of people’s lives is by designing in connection. Office buildings must become more than simply a space to work. Businesses need to think of themselves as public amenities with amazing experiences attached, nurturing the people in them. It is in these ways that we can build connected communities, both within and outside our offices. More than ever, occupiers and employees are demanding the highest-quality, well-designed office space. With businesses seeking to attract and retain the best staff, the building and space they occupy now serve as a key talent magnet. Occupiers will favour offices that encourage their employees to journey to the city centre. That means they need to offer an experience beyond just the working day. Developers are really starting to take this on board. Adding attractive rooftop or street-level gardens and allotments, event and community spaces, and gallery spaces will help make these buildings destinations, rather than simply workplaces. Brindleyplace in Birmingham has led the way on this in the city for over 20 years with its vibrant blend of managed outdoor community spaces. Matt Hammond, the Midlands’ head of PwC who is based at Paradise, calls these environments the ‘work home’  and Paradise now marks the latest chapter in Birmingham’s compelling history, a place rich in heritage and charm, and a new destination for the city. Paradise brings a new urban neighbourhood to live in the heart of Birmingham by creating a thriving hub of events, spaces, squares, restaurants and cafés for both visitors and workers.  Wellington Place in Leeds is another great example of connection and community… a place you can enjoy all the perks of a city centre location with the benefits of a connected community. Offices will also need to protect their occupants. Health and wellbeing have become more prominent following the experience of Covid-19. Workplaces that provide better air quality, access to outdoor space, and facilities to encourage running or cycling to work will look increasingly attractive to occupiers. In the post-lockdown period, people will be more reluctant to touch light switches and lift buttons, which will likely increase the number of buildings being upgraded with touchless technology such as hands-free doors, voice-activated elevators, and phone-controlled door locks. Smart buildings can offer solutions to several challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and investments in smart-building technologies are expected to rise significantly in the near future to help people better prepare for any future outbreaks. 

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to be returning to the office, although with flexibility! As the award-winning Financial Times writer Lucy Kellaway said, “Despite the commute and the colleagues, the sitting and the stale meetings, offices bring many of us something else too: joy.”  And now that we are all working from home, amid the children, the toast crumbs and the laundry, we are realising that the presence of an orderly life at the office is a liberation.

I have worked in property research for most of my career, starting off as a data analyst in our Savills’ city office. Things were very different back then. The office sector has transformed dramatically over the last few years. The preconception that landlords are distant rent collectors has changed, and a far more active and engaging landlord is now required from tenants, resulting in new, exciting opportunities for landlords. These range from physical or building-related issues such as the design and layout of a building, fostering community within an office, and exploring different leasing agreements. Real estate is also being recognised as a recruitment and productivity tool by occupiers. Human Resources, employees and advisors are also becoming more involved and heavily influential in the procurement of office space for corporate occupiers. I’ve loved seeing places like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds develop and grow over the last 15 years, with the quality of regional office spaces significantly improved. Long gone are the days when if you wanted flagship office space in the UK to impress visitors you were limited to London to attract the top talent. The top regional cities now boast some of the most exciting prime offices in the UK, more than suitable for a showcase corporate HQ with often higher environmental standards, a factor that can help reinforce a relocation decision given the rapid rise of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) on the corporate agenda.

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