Lurking in the background of all our lives is the increasing threat of climate change. Lurking in the UK are the doubts about the future of our economy and trade following Brexit; and currently present all over the world is the virus called Covid-19. Back in September gradually, very gradually, people were going back to work. Now, another lockdown is looming over us here in London.
Since lockdown in March many words have been written and opinions voiced about what happens now. Will the acceleration of the use of Zoom and Google Meet lead to more and more people continuing to work from home? Will the cost of commuting and/or the fear of infection cause people to think about staying out of city centres? Will the whole nature of work change as more and more people begin to worry about man’s disastrous ability to ruin our planet if we carry on as before? In the Guardian today, this headline grabbed me,
“The world’s banks must start to value nature and stop paying for its destruction”. It goes on to say, “This week’s Bankrolling Extinction report finds that financial institutions provide the capital that is funding over-exploitation of our lands and seas, putting biodiversity in freefall.”
And what is going to happen to work once the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution really begin to be felt? What about the political threats caused by the rise of authoritarian regimes? What about the geo-political threats of the battle for power between the US and China and of Russian interference?
It is not at all an easy time for decision makers in any field to consider the way forward. But decision makers cannot just sit on their hands and do nothing. Optimism, hope, imagination and hard work need to be brought to bear if disaster is to be avoided.
The Busworks is a business which has been badly affected by Covid-19. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown with thousands working from home has resulted in several industries being almost wiped out. Airlines, aero manufacturing, travel, hospitality. A host of smaller businesses which form the supply chain of those industries have also been adversely hit. It is these smaller businesses which are the major users of Busworks. In June 2020 when some businesses were permitted to open, Busworks found it had completely lost about 40% of its occupants (taking advantage of the flexibility of a two month termination clause in their agreements). A further 40% of businesses had kept on their space but were requesting financial help from Busworks to keep trading. Fewer than 5% of the residents came into work during lockdown, because their services were regarded as essential. The future of Busworks looked fairly bleak during this time.
However, by the first week of September just as children started to go back to school, The Busworks had noticeably started filling up with returning workers and re-opened offices. The on-site pub and restaurant, The Depot also re-opened part-time. Most residents say they are happy to be back and they express great gratitude for the forbearance and generosity Busworks has provided over a frightening period. They are grateful too for the assistance given by the Government. However, any sense of hope is tempered by fear that the country may need to be locked down once more.
As Busworks Managing Director, I have over forty years of experience in surviving recessions and it normally takes a period of five years, from the start of a downturn, to get back to the previous turnover and profit level. The pandemic feels quite different from any previous recession and the future survival of a great many SME’s is now seriously in doubt.
Once life returns to a new normal, it is widely thought that many businesses will permit their staff to become more flexible in their working practices and some will continue to work from home permanently. However, it is unlikely that most businesses can become entirely “virtual”. It seems more likely that they will need a permanent base and that many people will prefer the sociability and inspiration of working together in groups away from home.
It could also be that larger companies will need to think about down-sizing their offices and seeking the flexibility and affordability that a place such as The Busworks offers. Should the worst fears about future redundancies come to bear, then there could well be a resurgence in people seeking to start up their own new business – as there was after the terrible recession of the late 1970’s. Many young people will also be looking to work for themselves using their intellectual capital, seeing this as preferable to working for a big company.
The 4IR could bring opportunities for businesses which are not yet even imagined. It is also likely that climate change will bring about whole rafts of new businesses connected with energy, energy-saving, agriculture, construction, care and personal services as well as in tech itself.
We believe that The Busworks will have an important part to play in the future provision of flexible, imaginative, helpful, friendly, attractive, sustainable and affordable spaces for people to work.
About the author
Gillian Harwood established her own businesses in the early 1970’s. In 1976 she conceived the idea of refurbishing a burnt-out redundant factory in London’s Hampstead Road into “bedsitters for businesses”. She became one of the handful of pioneers in the whole concept of Shared Workspace/Co-working/Serviced offices. Since that first endeavour, she has been responsible for other developments such as Tideway Yard in Mortlake; The Candlemakers and Needlemakers Factory in Lewes, East Sussex; Forum Workspace in Chichester , Sladers Yard in Dorset, as well as many other smaller regeneration and employment-creation schemes. She was also the founder and MD of The Depot Restaurant in Mortlake for 30 years now operated by Rick Stein. In 1988 she won the Options-TSB Business Woman of the Year award from Margaret Thatcher. Many of the regeneration developments have won architectural awards. Currently, she is seeking exposure and investors for the regeneration of the architecture in the historic town of Great Yarmouth, through distribution of her manifesto, Catch The Tide | Believe in Yarmouth
She served on the boards of CILNTEC and Business Link. She is a Fellow of the RSA. She is a Founding Director and current Managing Director of Busworks Ltd. Omnibus Workspace Ltd, United Workspace Ltd and Lewes Workspace Ltd.