Putting our Money Where our Mouth is on the Return of the Office Market.

Mark Richardson of BB&J explains why the business chose to relocate in the middle of a pandemic…

It may have seemed on the face of it an odd thing to do last summer, signing a lease committing the business to new premises for a significant number of years, and then spending a not inconsiderable sum with interior designers and builders getting a bespoke refit to the whole building.

After all, we were faced with huge uncertainty on the economic front, no end in sight to the dreadful Covid pandemic, an economy broadly in full lockdown (if not meltdown) and a questionable future for working from offices rather than working from home. There have been many proclaiming that the way we live and work has changed forever, that the office market is ‘dead’ and the future is in working remotely.

The reality as with many of these things is not quite so straightforward, and various considerations came in to play, which will equally apply to many businesses.

Firstly, we had the opportunity. Our lease in the City Centre was coming to an end. It would have been very easy to stop where we were, after all we had been there for 25 years. But the business had changed, and the needs of the business itself and the needs of our clients had also changed. To stay in the same place, both physically and mentally felt wrong. It was convenient but seemed to have a touch of inertia about it. And sometimes, you just need to shake things up and recognise change can be both good and motivational.

We looked for other premises in the city centre but could find nothing suitable. As we know there has been a distinct lack of new office development, but that is another story.

We did however identify other premises elsewhere which would be a complete change in our working environment with potentially more modern surroundings and importantly ample accessible parking for our team and visiting clients.

It was at this point considerations around Covid really came into play, and where we really had to look at how we wanted to work as a business in the future. We looked at offices which were ready to go but in truth we felt were a bit of a squeeze. We needed somewhere that could amply fit all of us potentially at the same time but still have ample space bearing in mind both social distancing and a good working environment. Bigger premises cost more, so we at that point had to be very sure about business resilience.

Like many businesses, the first lockdown, unbelievably nearly a year ago, was a steep learning curve. We had been very much office based, so breaking that team up to work remotely from home was achievable, but very difficult. We could fulfil a function but not properly run as a business.

Certain types of business in the tech sector and similar are probably used to working as individuals and had capability and experience of working that way. Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have apparently given their employees the right to work from home permanently. However much of our work revolved around site and property inspections, and sometimes complex considerations that need the direct input of more than one person. The need to collaborate and meet was essential, both to run the business and also to grow it. We firmly believed the desire to work from home was a nice ideal when you didn’t have to do it, but when enforced was not such a happy or healthy proposition.

We took the view that all people are essentially sociable, and our need to be together is greater than our need to be apart, so creating a space where we could do that safely and talk, collaborate and share ideas was so ingrained that it would not benefit us individually and from business perspective to look at working from home long term. We accepted that at some point (then unknown) in the future we would be able to return to work. We decided we wanted a ‘hub’ which could accommodate everyone, but as a business would embrace the fact that home working could be good for part of the time. Just because someone was ‘at home’ didn’t mean they weren’t working effectively and having the ability to work in the evenings at home, rather than say the mornings, suited some such as those with childcare issues. So the effort was to be put into creating a space and environment that both our team and our clients would want to come into, and that was a great space and stimulating environment to work in, as well as recognising the cultural change that different people work in different ways.

Having identified premises, we then really wanted to create an informal space that would be open plan, though with offices, break out space and meeting areas that would suit us all and be suitable for clients.  To that end, we decided to have a complete bespoke refurb to make some really great space. Thanks to Derby based Coney Grey Interiors we were able to design something that was very professional, a little bit different and with some great personality. We were, as our hashtag says, having our #commercialspacemadepersonal. In the end we decided a total change was needed, so it was literally a case of taking our desk contents in a box and leaving all of our furniture behind.

We also felt the need for a rebrand on our BB&J Commercial logo and a new website would be a great help in giving us a ‘push’ in our new office, so spent time on that as well.

We genuinely believe we are right in our belief that the need for offices will come back. Maybe not as before, as even now offices from just a few years ago seem more like the Pathe’ news reels from the 1950’s than they do an indication of the direction we are heading.

But we can’t deny our human nature, who we are and what we need. So spending the time and effort on creating the right environment to work in, that would give people motivation and social connection will benefit all of us and is essential for individual personal wellbeing and mental health, as well as being hugely helpful in running and growing a business.

Yes there are financial savings in shutting offices and getting people working from their spare rooms, but there are other costs that can’t be measured.

On a cost/benefit analysis, we firmly believe the benefits in spending the time effort and money in creating a good working environment where we can socially interact far outweigh the costs.


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