Work at the Crossroads: Re-imagining the Workspaces Post COVID-19
“I’ve been more productive in the last 2 days working here, than the last 2 months at home,” says 24-year-old Lily Evans, a member of the Hatcham House community workspace in South London. Like so many others of her generation, she has been hit hard by Covid-19. Recently laid off and now moving back in with her parents.
“Thought it was tough for a graduate to get a good job before Covid-19, try applying for jobs now!” she explains.
Lily is one of three young people who have all been given a free place in this community coworking space. All three have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Last, to enter the job market, these millennials are among the first to be – as companies euphemistically call - “laid off !” Given that work is so critical to our identity, it’s pretty tough being told you are not needed before you even start your career.
Community members of Hatcham House
But it is not just the millennials who are having to re-think work. The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing cracks in a range of workplace behaviors.
The Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce Report reports that an alarming 85% of employees worldwide admitted that they were disengaged from their work.
If only 15% of workers were positively engaged in their work before Covid-19, what will be the fall-out after staff has been furloughed, given the time to think about what they really value whilst at the same time experiencing massive job insecurity?
Mark Stevenson, another member of Hatcham House is not surprised. The author of 2 award-winning books about the future says:
“What is interesting is that having had the opportunity to work from home and spend time with the kids, many of the people who are disengaged from their work are going to want something different.”
And he is right. In many parts of the country, including in our local community, Covid-19 lock-down has birthed a burgeoning resurgence in what it means to work both within and for a community.
We set up Hatcham House to ‘house’ projects and ‘hatch’ new ideas.
Transforming a traditional working man’s club into a vibrant community workspace is our story, but thousands across the country are also testing new business and community models which support those in work, and those who are under-employed, those active in the community and those wanting to re-connect with local customers and causes.
Hatcham House Reception
Mark Stevenson again:
“Because we have had to all pivot and work locally and make connections, people are re-discovering that they can work in a different way. Hatcham House is the perfect model for re-inventing not just where we work but how we work, for the more money and serendipity you keep within the community the better it is for all.” See the full interview here.
I believe that 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 neighbors and the wider community.
Community Event at the Hatcham House
Many who have joined Hatcham House are eager to connect with values-led, sustainable networks and spaces which actively encourage sharing. Our strapline is Home from Home. If you create a home for people to work collectively and across generations and sectors you build community. Hospitality is not a profession, it’s an ethos.
Local people are emerging from their homes and professional silos and are now seeing the benefits of working locally. The free places we provide for young people needing support to start their own business is just one way we are developing something different. But this is not some patronizing tokenism, the youth members are already establishing a self-help group of their own to bring their wider network together and form mutual support. Their organizing, communication, and event-planning skills are superb. If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that millennials have a great radar for identifying when they’ve been ripped off!
They’re rightly rejecting the top-down, coercive I Daniel Blake approach which government to date has used when it comes to employability. No, they are demanding a new social contract where they are given opportunities, trust, and spaces where they can create their own work. They have little faith in the agility, flexibility, and political will of government initiatives. They know it must be they themselves who curate uber-local solutions, use digital tools, and get on their electric scooters!
And those running buildings are also searching for ways to re-purpose their assets. John Burgess, another member of Hatcham House and head of real estate in a large company says:
“We found that 83% of our workforce found it easy to work from home during Covid, which has meant that large companies are urgently asking why they need so much centralized office space. However, you can feel so isolated working from home. We all need ‘water-cooler’ moments and for me, I get that at Hatcham House.”
Community Kitchen at the Hatcham House
So, could more local community buildings be re-purposed for work hubs? Pubs, community centers, old hotels, even places of worship can be remodeled as work hubs and play a new role in bringing employed and those who are under-employed together. However, they need to be high quality: think boutique, think blended, think creative, think relationships, think inclusivity.
There is a long way to go, however in making the Hatcham House business model work but in the first few months of opening we’ve learned the following:
Hatcham House has established itself as a Community Interest Company which gives us the ability to attract social investment and grants. Yes, we need to run a sustainable social business but we believe we can provide a high-quality workspace for people forced to work from home, whilst at the same time curating community cohesion.
If you want to run a space like this, you must engage with potential customers digitally — through Instagram, the web, and advertising, but also through word of mouth, leafleting, and reaching out to local organizations. We’ve worked with the leading global workspace app provider andcards who have produced a Hatcham House app for us (see how it works in a short video tutorial). This enables members to book desks, purchase drinks, and list the skills they want to share with others.
We’ve also partnered with Klevio, the smart intercom and smartphone app that lets members open our HH door from their phone with all the independence and freedom this provides. Psychologically giving people the keys to a ‘home’ creates a brilliant sense that this is their space. Being a community project can utilise the most modern innovations usually associated with the corporate world.
Members like the mixture of personal and professional. People don’t just want a ‘WeWork’ corporate look and feel, they don’t mind free good coffee made in a cafeteria or being offered tea served by other members from a teapot. It is the social interaction and water-cooler moments which makes even the hardest work bearable. Furthermore, there is so much to learn when you talk to a potential customer about their sector post-Covid.
Communities need to become both more resilient and more innovative. Gone are the days when the state or even local authorities could afford to fund new initiatives. Part of Hatcham House is about hatching new ideas and ways in which local community groups can strengthen their relationships one with another, share what resources we have, and look out for those who need nurturing.
The good news is that work is at the heart of this. When people become more creative, work with more purpose and stretch their emotional intelligence they feel better about themselves and have the capacity to start thinking of their neighbors, better still they give back to the community which supported them in getting a job thereby creating a virtuous circle. Enabling them to pilot their ideas in a shared space is enormously empowering.
Originally the concept was to use the beautiful hall for hot-desking during the day and community, social or professional network gatherings at night. However, Covid-19 has put a stop to all that for the time being. We too need to walk the talk and innovate and become resilient. How? Well, I suspect someone in our community knows.
The article was written by Stephen Carrick-Davies, a social entrepreneur who as well as education projects and employability training programmes in other countries, is developing the Hatcham House project in New Cross Gate South London. See www.hatchamhouse.com