Comment: The Theatre of Work

24th August 2022 | 5 min read


By Matt Watts, Chief Commercial Officer at LABS

That feeling of being part of a community; of connecting and interacting is not something that can be replicated at home, which is likely to be one of many reasons why leasing activity in central London is rising. Some 3.1m sq ft was taken up between January – April 2022, 53% higher than the same period in 2021 and 12% up this period in 2020, according to CBRE.

It is also one of the reasons behind why some occupiers have purchased their offices. For example, Google said the acquisition of its Central St Giles office earlier this year represented its confidence in the office as a place for in-person collaboration and connection and committed itself to introducing more type of spaces to help support this.

Whilst the uplift being reported in leasing activity also supports the sentiment from our members. Earlier this year we reported that 70% of respondents to our LABS members survey confirmed that their office is still a strategic device for their business.

The office provides a backdrop for human interactions and collaborations, which spur creativity, deliver inspiration and lead to new ideas, like how a theatre provides a backdrop for people to interact, connect with and play. In both scenarios they become a catalyst for emotions, conversations and experiences that lead to new opinions and concepts.

It’s just that the office is now being used differently by occupiers. It is no longer just about desks and chairs. Instead, it’s a much more integrated, experiential approach that involves better use of lounge spaces and meeting rooms, as well as other alternative spaces too. The use of bespoke, private office configurations combined with shared, community-based amenities is what sets the most successful businesses apart. Those that optimise their space in this manner create the most efficient spaces for employees to do business.

This demand for variety of spaces (which was starting to happen pre-pandemic as occupiers sought to create more dynamic work environments to attract and retain talent) has been accelerated by the increased demand from employees for greater flexibility in how they work and spend their working week, which is not necessarily a trend brought about by the Covid-19 outbreak or something that’s developed as a direct result of the move towards hybrid working. But the pandemic has expedited this movement to a hybrid working week, stemming from the fact that new levels of trust between employers and employees were created during the Covid-enforced lockdowns.  People showed they could be trusted to work in other environments, whilst developments in technology mean that it’s easier for managers and teams to communicate.

We saw 51% of respondents to the LABS Members Survey report that they were seeking either a better work/life balance, or more flexibility in their working lives since the start of the pandemic. A substantial figure, showing that employees are not likely to go back to previous working norms that they now feel are outdated and not conducive to getting the best out of them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is now expected that employers provide greater freedom and flexibility with working hours and those looking to retain their top talent will now need to maintain this flexibility to stay competitive.

Yet, employees do still want to come into the office at least some of the week to meet colleagues to develop and maintain relationships, collaborate and see clients, which means they are still requiring vibrant and sophisticated workplaces to provide the right environments to facilitate this. Properly equipped meeting rooms will always be essential to every business to use, whilst open plan communal spaces and café style areas deliver a buzz, chance meetings and relaxed spaces for more informal get-togethers, and more private spaces such as booths create places for quiet thought after a meeting or brainstorming session and one on one chats.

Interestingly, we are also seeing greater demand for day passes and roaming memberships week on week so far this year and we anticipate these more transient types of membership continuing to grow in popularity. Again, this was a trend that was emerging pre-pandemic, but ultimately, we are a social species and most of us need some level of interaction and/or connection with others to thrive. Going to work also provides us with so much more than just a place to work. LABS spaces are purposefully situated in central London amongst some of the best shopping districts, restaurants and entertainment spaces the city has to offer, because there is a demand to be in close proximity to these things. Yes, people work from flexible workspace due of the flexibility, reliability and quality of the experience. But equally, we go because of everything else we have access to. Consumerism and convenience will always be some of the main driving forces behind human behaviour.

Fundamentally, the aim of workplace providers, such as LABS, is to deepen the connection and sense of experience occupiers and end users have with our spaces by providing them the best tools, amenities, and resources possible to boost collaboration and productivity. Just as audiences and communities come together and rally behind their local theatre in eager anticipation of its latest show, our workspaces should inspire a deep sense of identification with its users, enabling them to work to their best when they choose to use the space.


This thought leadership article was published in workplace design magazine, Works.