Almost two months ago, the government dropped its ‘working from home’ guidelines. Still, the expected flood back to the office has so far failed to materialize.
Many companies are encouraging their staff to continue working remotely and others have closed their offices completely.
And in the midst of all the closures and changing guidance, a lucrative market has emerged: pay-as-you-go office spaces.
Office life: With many companies encouraging their staff to continue working remotely and others having completely closed their offices, a lucrative market has emerged: pay-as-you-go office space
Tens of thousands of people have joined these networks because they have grown tired of working from home.
Co-working spaces across the country say membership numbers have exploded, many of which have doubled or even tripled since pre-pandemic.
Young people seem to be leading the way, sometimes paying upwards of £100 a month to escape their cramped flatshares.
But it puts them in the ridiculous position of effectively paying to go to work, either because their employer has closed their office for good or because restrictions keep them from going in when they want to.
Nick Donnelly, who runs the national co-working network WorkClub, has nearly tripled the number of users compared to pre-pandemic levels. Most of the demand came in after May, when indoor locations were allowed to open again.
He says, ‘It’s individual workers who come to us and ask for a workplace.
‘The average age of our users is between 28 and 36 years. I think they just want an alternative.’
WorkClub is one of the more affordable co-working spaces, with rates starting at £9 per day, in addition to the option of cheaper monthly memberships.
It’s worth £90 to escape the flat
Magazine writer Emily Webber missed interacting with other people at work
Magazine writer Emily Webber pays around £90 a month out of pocket for a co-working space after her employer unexpectedly closes her office.
The 24-year-old, from West London, pays for membership of the Allbright Women’s Network in the capital, which gives her access to a workplace and regular events.
She says the network has helped her re-motivate her after she struggled to adjust to working from the bedroom in her flat.
“An office is one of those things that you don’t appreciate until it’s gone,” Emily says. “I missed being with others at work, hearing them on the phone and meeting new people.
“It gives me the motivation to get dressed and make up and get out of the house for the day.”
Emily started a new job during the lockdown and had expected to start working in the office once restrictions were relaxed. But earlier this year, her employer informed staff that the office was closing.
It works with a range of locations that advertise themselves on their app. Users may pay more for perks like bottomless tea and coffee or more space, while basic rooms only offer a desk and Wi-Fi.
Tony Heyden, who runs Fruitworks in Canterbury and London, says its membership has also doubled since before the pandemic and demand is now so great that there is a waiting list for people to sign up.
He says: ‘The age range of our members has crept up and we have noticed that many more women are using our spaces than before the pandemic.
“Our members used to be mostly tech companies, but now we see people from all kinds of backgrounds — including a seamstress bringing her sewing kit.”
Subscriptions to Fruitworks start at £60 per month, allowing members to spend one day a week in the office. It costs £80 a month to spend three days a week in the office and £125 a month to access space five days a week.
Included in the membership is guaranteed office space, free tea and coffee, use of the printing and copying machines and discounts for local businesses.
Huckletree, which offers ‘housing offices’ for as much as £300 a month, tells a similar story. It saw a 250 percent increase in the number of people accessing its deals between April-August 2020 and the same period in 2021.
The sudden surge in demand for flexible workplaces has encouraged global leader WeWork to adapt its offerings to keep pace.
Last month, the company launched ‘WeWork on Demand’, which allows employees to book office space for as little as £45 a day — or £15 an hour for a meeting room — in five UK cities.
But there are concerns that employees will have to pay for office space that they can reasonably expect from their employer.
This is especially troubling because those most likely to work outside the home are younger workers with lower pay.
Workplace expert and social historian Dr Eliza Filby says: ‘It seems that dishonest employees sometimes pay more than double their phone bills to gain access to a workplace.
“Companies have a duty to provide the conditions and equipment that enable people to operate and work.
“If someone feels they can’t work from home, employers should either help pay for their office space or pay them more so they can afford a nicer home.
“It’s a big gray area though, as HR can say ‘well it’s your choice’. Danielle Parsons, a labor partner at Irwin Mitchell, says there could be an increase in legal disputes over where employees plan to work.
Younger workers in particular may be renting housing in small flats that were never designed to work remotely.
“Many employees do want to ‘go back to normal’ and get back to work in the office, so these kinds of disputes could become part of employment law after all.”
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