Work + Play: What it Looks like in Post-Covid London
Nothing gives me greater relief that I work for myself than hearing how much multi-billion corporations care for their employees. What miraculously procured mountains of money are spent promoting women or minorities, only for statistics to mysteriously stay the same. Or what lovingly enforced strategies are cooked up to make us more productive for our own good?! They even harness design to winch the most out of us.
The Taylorist model was dreamt up in the 1900s as part of the Efficiency Movement. It aimed to imitate factory assembly lines in offices by assigning people simple, repetitive tasks, thus ensuring unbroken workflow (and, no doubt, suicide-inducing monotony).
The 1950s had Bürolandschaft, which briefly introduced the idea of – gasp! – plants, and social mingling between senior and junior staff. But this was too daring. The layout was deemed random, so ‘action furniture’ was developed to address privacy concerns. Unfortunately, by the 1980s, this deteriorated into cubicle farms. The open-plan offices that most of us worked in during the 2000s might have been a response to that… but they didn’t really work either. Distracting and noisy, many reported feeling exposed and self-conscious. Research shows that one third of our entire lives will be spent at work. There’s got to be a better way to do it.
Tobias, co-founder of a co-working space in Finsbury Park, is part of a new movement with a refreshingly positive mindset, ‘I’ve been running a commercial cleaning business, and I love offices! I know that sounds like a silly thing to love, but I do. They’re some of the most vibrant parts of London. I’ve seen incredible ones with butlers, restaurants, saunas… I wanted to create a place that takes the best parts and fits them into the world we’re living in now.’
Co-working spaces are not exactly new (most of us have visited at least one of the ill-fated WeWorks), but the once-foreign idea of hot-desking or sharing space with other companies has been on a constant rise. Then flexible working received a huge boost in the pandemic, as businesses no longer wanted to lease space long-term. Meanwhile, skilled freelancers and SMEs are only increasing in London, with many encouraged to make the transition from permanent employment to self-employment thanks to the ‘carpe diem’ mentality spawned by multiple lockdowns.
Demand for co-working is 32% higher than it was in June 2020. Tobias and Freddie – North Londoners, cousins and office idealists – are amongst the canny entrepreneurs who’ve responded by jumping in.
Together, they’ve created Work + Play, a shiny new hotspot on Seven Sisters Road. As much as everyone raves about work-from-home, the downsides are there. ‘The top three things we hear are: “I need to get away from my partner”, “I need to get away from my kids”, and “I’m going crazy and I need to get out of the house”, laughs Tobias.
But the co-working landscape in London is sophisticated.
But the co-working landscape in London is sophisticated.
It must acknowledge that the workforce wants ease of access, amenities, flexibility and freedom. But above all they want balance. This is an educated and aware generation that doesn’t want to fall into ‘presenteeism’ or get ‘burn-out’. That’s why Work + Play is so clever in offering the leisure activities promised in the name. You can pick up a yoga class, join lunchtime mediation, or socialise after hours.
‘We look at our clients and it’s such an eclectic mix of people, industries, philosophies… a real petri dish. Hopefully after the last couple of years people will start searching for more joy in their life. And joy can be really simple. It can be as simple as coming to work and finding the space you need to feel good about what you’re doing.’
‘We’re also crushing the commute’, explains Freddie. ‘Because people are no longer willing to accept travelling as far.’ This trend attracts members who are local or from near-by boroughs, allowing Work + Play to be community-led and to support another point close to their heart: building back the high-street. ‘We have the most incredible Italian, sushi and Caribbean restaurants round the corner, so why wouldn’t we partner with them? It takes a while to embed yourself, but this isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution.’
Sensationalists declare the high street dead. True, it was ailing already, in competition from e- commerce, but with the lockdowns an estimated 30,000 more retail units may close. That includes Oxford Street titans such as Miss Selfridge, J Crew, and most alarmingly, the iconic Topshop and once-immortal Debenhams. But this is not a productive way of looking at it.
‘Central London can always take care of itself’, is Tobias’ opinion, ‘and there are already high- streets that aren’t central but work really well. If you go to places like Hampstead, these are owner-operated, small businesses, not multi-billionaires with massive portfolios. These are people who have found a specific niche and a specific audience and who effect great harmony in that space.’
‘Sometimes in this country we’re not great at talking about the things that we’re doing better than the rest of the world, Tobias continues, ‘but in London we excel at renewal and regeneration, which is why we hope we’re at the right place at the right time’. Finsbury Park, conveniently sitting on the Victoria line, is one of those spots where you can still get in early and build a hub. As newspaper City A.M. put it, the high-street will be about ‘Doing stuff, rather than buying stuff.’
At the launch party I saw two old friends run into each other and hug with happy squeals. I saw an older lady pinch arancini off a plate, then turn to the young blonde goth next to her and say, with a wink, ‘shall I grab you one?’ People queuing for cocktails joked about who’s drink was who’s instead of arguing about it. Groups of smiling faces filled the room, filled it till they spilled out into the cloakroom area and beyond, into the street. Plus, they had Poppy Cock, a drag queen, wearing a net on her head so that invitees could have a go at shooting ping pong balls into it. Now doesn’t it sound like just the sort of place you’d want to be part of?