Podcast Ep 45: Aislinn Mahon from Huckletree and Brian Moran from NoCo on what the post-Covid flexible future of work could look like in Ireland.
Just before Christmas it emerged that co-working hubs Huckletree and NoCo were joining forces to give each company’s members access to additional working spaces both in the city but also on the edges of Dublin city.
ThinkBusiness spoke to Aislinn Mahon from Huckletree and Brian Moran from NoCo about how the hubs are joining fores to serve a new reality where 88pc of people are planning to return to work in the offices at least once a week.
“People who say the office is dead, I fundamentally disagree with this. The workplace will become something that is more than just an office to sit and work from a laptop”
What does this mean for the future of work in Ireland?
A life beyond the commute
The partnership will allow Huckletree and NoCo members to have access to additional working spaces, even closer to their homes, helping teams work together and reducing time spent on public transport.
NoCo clients will benefit from a host of Huckletree amenities, including the ability to hot-desk, and utilise meeting and event space, across Huckletree’s Dublin 2, Manchester and London workspaces. Huckletree members will be able to access private Huckletree ‘studios’ in NoCo locations, complete with free parking. Each NoCo building is divided into private‘own door’ workspaces – in a size required by the client.
After raising €200,000 from private investors, the first of NoCo’s spaces – a 40,000 sq. ft. building in Swords Business Campus – opened in January, with four more locations to follow in Clonee, Adamstown, Naas and Bray.
According to Mahon, the changes imposed by the Covid-19 series of lockdowns has altered the working landscape in more ways than people realise. “Two-thirds of 200 people we surveyed were happy to come back to work two to three times per week. But the main factor they were looking at was the commute. So they’d be happy to come back in force some of the days of the week but would like to avoid the commute.”
The collaboration between Huckletree and NoCo offers a tantalising glimpse of how potentially people will view their working weeks when lockdowns lift. Many of course will happily toil at home, but there are many others who need a location to go to for a myriad of reasons; it could be to concentrate away from the kids, it could be for the camaraderie of a workplace, or it could be for a creative dynamic. And employers too will want people to come together.
The constellation of offices around Dublin also neatly dovetails with a place to be in the city and vice-versa.
Moran, who founded NoCo with Frankie McSwiney, said that the inspiration for creating locations that were close to the city, but not in the city, came from his own commutes from Ashbourne in Meath. “I was spending a lot of time just trying to get to work and when I started digging it was clear that there were huge cohorts of people like me who were coming in from Kildare, Wicklow, even Wexford every day, which made my commute from Ashbourne seem like nothing.
“So we decided the only way to address a problem like that was to provide a network of suburban locations.” But not only provide locations he explained, but enable companies to cater for employees who were coming from different locations and directions and give them back a huge amount of time they were wasting travelling to work.
Conversely, people who lived and worked in the city found the lockdowns socially isolating. According to Mahon, hubs like Huckletree provided them with that focal point and sense of community.
“Our survey found that 89pc of people miss their work friends, which was by far the highest percentage answers to the questions we asked. We found that people are incredibly lonely and isolated. You may live in a small apartment, may not have a home office and if you live alone there’s nobody to break up the day for you. So, what we found was that there were people coming to work for the social aspect of it. We stayed open during the level three and five restrictions and the people who were coming were mostly people living nearby and who were city-dwellers and they were still coming to Huckletree. The reason was to work collaboratively and have conversations with people that don’t lend themselves to Zoom.
“People who say the office is dead, I fundamentally disagree with this. The workplace will become something that is more than just an office to sit and work from a laptop. It’s the people aspect, the more creative brainstorming work, that’s where workspaces will be badly needed.”
Moran agrees. He said the workplaces of the future will be about how flexible companies are going to be. “We certainly don’t see an end to the city centre office. Once the vaccine gets rolled out people will start to return but you may have a little less density in terms of the amount of workforce that will be in a city.”
He added that businesses will look at alternatives like a hub and spoke model. “The feedback we are getting is that the old playbook has been torn up. Big firms like professional services firms and big accounting firms are looking to the future and from a perspective of the next 20 years.”
The Covid crisis brought about a mass digital transformation that proved businesses can keep the lights on thanks to broadband and legions of workers operating from home offices and kitchen tables. But it’s not perfect and it’s not for everyone in the long term.
As Moran points out with 200,000 commuters coming to cities from all corners of Ireland and 400,000 travelling within commuter belts that were arriving into cities pre-Covid, companies are thinking about talent. With the right infrastructure in place businesses can give workers more options.
I asked Mahon and Moran if they planned to expand the model to other Irish cities like Cork, Limerick or Galway.
Moran said: As the change of work practices start to occur and the more flexibility comes in, the less city-centre corporates will expect their employees to be based at a city-centre office. We envisage demand for satellite offices within a network. In Cork, Eventbrite recently said they were hiring 30 new people over the next year but are not tying those hires to a particular location. And as a lot of companies start to look into the future and figure out what their hiring requirements will be, you’ll see more of a demand for office spaces in places you previously wouldn’t. We’re going to keep a close eye on the market and from feedback from companies figure out what their hiring strategies are and where they think there will be demand. Hopefully we can be ahead of the game and position ourselves in those areas.”
Mahon believes it will boil down to choice. “I think the work from anywhere policy and having a flexible mindset will prevail. So whether you want to come into the city centre or work closer to home or work at home just one day a week, as long as you can be productive, you are happy with your set-up, then that should work for your employer.
“I think we need to look at making work a little more experiential for people or more collaborative, and just make more clever use of the time and space we have.”
Adaptability, she added, is also key. “Investing in teams and their personal development suffered a lot in the past year. We were able to bring all of our programming – some 130 workshops – online this year.
“A big focus for companies in 2021 will be on teams. Making sure they get people skilled, look after their learning and development needs and allow them and support them to work from wherever they want to work from.”
Main image at top: Brian Moran and Frankie McSwiney, founders of NoCo, with Huckletree Dublin 2 general manager Aislinn Mahon
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By John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 3 February 2021