Coffee for rent?

No sooner have we all got used to seeing people (like me) working in our local Costa or Starbucks than someone has to go and spoil the party.


Obviously the ordering of a medium capp or grande latte carries with it a small price for some free wifi. That’s why the tables are now generally occupied by laptops and iPads (apparently other makes are available). Coffee equals rent. Everyone knows that nothing is ever for free.

My local Costa has become more akin to a modern office – with people spreading papers, phones and wifi enabled devices out. And why not – the coffee is good, the seats are comfy and you tend not to get disturbed* by colleagues who want to know if you ‘just have a minute‘.

But there is a shift. It seems we are having too much of a good thing and, apparently, the sort of territorial behaviour we have seen is unsociable and effecting coffee sales. So, in America, there are signs that wifi is being turned off.

It can only be a matter of time before they start (or stop) this here?

This will be a backward step; how will I be able to start my day?

*some of my colleagues believe I am already disturbed.

No such thing as a free lunch?

Although it’s an American study – I am guessing that the UK is no different. From a new poll of just over 1,000 New Yorkers it was found that:

* less than 20% of employees take a lunch break
* 39% eat lunch at their desk
* 28% report taking no lunch break at all
* More than 80% state that a “proper lunchtime” is a thing of the past

I’m not surprised. Our lives are so busy that the eating thing is just something we need to do to help us through the afternoon. It punctuates the working day – and has become almost a distraction.

It is compounded by the fact that we are now ‘always on’. Our phones distract us with their constant ‘ping’ as emails, texts or reminders pop up. Some people now have two phones – a personal one and a work one! we have iPads or Galaxies – and carry laptops around with us. We hanker after wi-fi points.

You do wonder if this is all healthy? Missing lunch is bad; sitting eating it in front of that big flat screen thing is worse?

Perhaps we should make the effort to get up – walk around and go and sit somewhere else to eat lunch? I was going to start today – but note that I have a meeting. Hmmm…

Work Experience – the dilemma

Last week, we had a number of young people (very PC – please note!) in our office – all on work experience.

It is a bit of a problem for us and, if I’m honest we shy away from it. We do it usually as a ‘favour’ for friends and families of people we know. The problem arises on several levels.

Firstly, we are really busy – and we don’t ‘carry’ people. We don’t have staff sitting around with time on their hands. So ‘managing’ someone – who may be on their very first visit to an office – is quite challenging. Secondly, if we are going to do this, we want the young person to get something out of it – so they really need to be immersed in office life. Thirdly, the office can be an interesting place – more like a zoo sometimes – depending on the pressures of the day! And finally, our office doesn’t follow a pattern, our work can be quite varied – and we go out a lot.

The next issue is that, rightly, the School need some assurances that we aren’t going to kill the young person. That we are not going to subject them to too much ritualistic abuse (although most in the office have to tolerate that). So we have to fill forms in. We have to be checked out, the rulebook news to be read, understood and signed off in blood. These are all barriers – which say more about modern society than my office.

So that’s the dilemma, lots of forms, lots of tim and lots of restrictions. ALl to make sure we don’t reduce someone to tears.

I’m not sure what the answer is, as I think on the whole the young people do get something out of it – seeing how an office works, understanding behaviour and getting a feel for what life might be like after school. But the effort for us is significant – and, other than a little goodwill, there’s not much in it for us.

Perhaps we do need to think again about how the system could be made easier for the employer?

Business Attire

I saw last week that Mark Zuckerberg made the headlines for wearing a hoodie to a major business presentation. Of course my ‘geek hero’ Steve Jobs wore his black turtleneck tops, jeans and trainers (sneakers that should be?) for most of his latter keynote talks.

When I joined a professional office in the early 1980′s a suit and tie were de rigeur. Then we seemed to go through a series of ‘dress down days’. And then back to the suit and tie.

Now we seem to again be in a state of flux. I probably wear a tie less than I wear one. But I always wear a suit. Jeans would not be acceptable in the office. I will generally put on a tie where I know the client will do. Some clients don’t wear ties and so I probably wouldn’t. If I were presenting though – I would wear a tie.

A wise old friend (and client) of mine once asked me why this was. Why did I need to wear a tie? His view was that it was about ego. That it made me feel important. It gave me an edge. It put a marker down that I was in control – and occupied a higher place.

I can see his point to an extent, but I’m not sure I totally agree. I think it shows respect. I think it also gives an impression that I have made some sort of effort. That I was bothered.

He would always say to me that my advice (to him) is no different if I am wearing a suit and tie or jeans and tee-shirt though – and this is right. It isn’t different.

Fair point?

Mad Men – playing catch up…

At Christmas I was given the first series of the American hit – Mad Men. I have to confess, at first I found it a bit slow. But as I watched more episodes it has grown on me. I have just finished the boxed set.

The show is about a bygone era. An era where smoking in offices was perfectly normal (I remember that!) and where men ruled the roost and the women-folk typed. Mad men may have some characters whose traits are pushed for TV, but there is an authenticity to it which shows just how much the world has moved on. I’m not sure I have seen a drinks cabinet in an office for many years!

The series has really captured the imagination – you can imagine that a New York ad agency was really like the show it portrays. The excesses and laddish behaviour are a stark contrast to the office of today. There were characters which I am not sure we see so much of now. Our world is sometimes rather sanitised by rules and regulations, of things that you can’t say or do. I’m not advocating that we return to this sort of world!

So, I now need to get onto Series 2,3,4 and 5…

The new citizen office

I am no expert on office furniture, but do know one particular ‘name’ – Vitra. They have a fantastic showroom in New Yorks Meatpacking District which is well worth a visit.

A very cool Vitra Sofa in New York

Vitra’s furniture is amazing. It has real Italian style in my view despite being a Swiss company. It has a price tag to match but the quality of the kit is palpable.

But what caught my eye in the week was they they have launched a new concept – the Citizen Office. You can read all about it here.

I sat in on a discussion a few weeks ago when we were talking about the way offices ‘work’. I blogged about some of the issues we spoke about here.

Vitra really are at the forefront of office design and working practices. They have spotted that employees work better in comfortable surroundings. Younger workers are wanting a ‘cool’ environment in which to work. it needs to be bright, spacious and modern. It has to encourage collaborative working – an environment where great ideas can be teased out and encouraged.

The physical structure of the office is based around a marketplace – much like a town – where people come together and ‘trade’ (ideas not goods). This is then surrounded by different forms of workstations – like neighbourhoods around the town. The whole environment is designed to motivate people. There are different forms of furniture which allow you to work whilst standing, sitting or lounging.

Work does comprise formal and informal working and this new office idea tries to encapsulate this.

The office is changing – we are becoming a knowledge based society and we will need to move with the times. This seems to be a natural step along the way. They also look really cool places to work?

The Office of the future?

I had an interesting lunch last week, hosted by Insider and with a theme about what working practices are currently and what they might look like in the future. I was part of a panel of people from various sectors in the Midlands.

A Google meeting room!

The early part of the discussion was centred around what the market is doing and the general consensus was that this was a tenants market, except perhaps in Grade A space – where the lack of supply has kept prices and deals up. This wasn’t the interesting part – as we all knew this!

The ‘panel’ did consider some interesting questions – notably what we actually do in the workplace. Much of our offices a now open plan and have become places to collaborate, but sometimes we need some protocols or strategies to allow people to work – mine is to employ an iPod! But there was a serious point, workplaces need to provide acoustic spaces and private areas – staff also need ownership. The latter can be a desk or a helping choose colours on the walls.

We touched upon The Equality Act and how that might stifle the office environment. I have strong view about this particularly legislation.

There was some amusement when a discussion ensued about the ageing nature of the workforce. The reality is that it is going to be difficult for some people to retire due to the pensions deficit. Some enlightened employers have recognised this and have installed quiet spaces. – perhaps even spaces for people to power nap (wasn’t that an 80′s thing?). Rest and recuperation may well become part of our working day, some days I feel I need it now!

Inevitably there was a section of the discussion that focused on ‘sustainability’ which generated some interesting comments. There was a very pragmatic approach which suggested that it is not always possible to build the greenest building because it can’t be afforded. Or that the users socially won’t use it. Sustainability is something that encompasses green technology, but can also be sustained in both economic and social terms.

I have moved!

After four and half years of the same view it was perhaps time for a change?

the view of my old desk from my new desk

My little team has grown to include Building Surveying and we have been on the recruitment drive. This is positive news for the firm, but the consequence was that we needed to move from our cluster of four desks into one of six. So when I say I have moved, I have – about four yards! And gained a spare desk – to spread out onto!

What I hadn’t realised was quite how much junk had accumulated in such a short space of time! I have never seen so many paperclips of different shapes, sizes and colours. And notepads – enough to make Hemingway jealous. I might write a novel in them. I have lots of USB and apple cables as well it seems. More than is healthy.

My new office hasn’t changed much, I think it is closer to the photocopier and printer by about 2 feet. The kitchen is slightly further away as is the little boys room. But it’s a tolerable walk.

I am going to have to get used to seeing everyone (and hearing everyone?) from my new spot. I couldn’t do that before. Nor could they see me I guess. We will all have to learn?

It was all quite painless really – the macbook and its accoutrements plugged together easily enough. Some of the stuff under the desk needed a bit of a waft down with a duster. And a dunk in some polish.

It was a fairly therapeutic exercise, but I am wondering what I am going to do with all those paperclips. I will raise the issue under the ‘paperclips and toilet rolls’ item on the next Board agenda…

East Midlands market knowledge

This morning my firm launched our third annual ‘insight’ into the state of the market – up to the end of 2009.

Over the next three days we will get around 500 people in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester to see the results of our research – which is not based on some theory, but rather real data. It is interpreted by people who work in the market day in day out.

So, what of the market-place?

According to Experian, “Despite prospects for UK annual average growth being well below its long-term average, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham may prove to have more resilience, thanks to their diverse services sector.”

Sadia Sheikh went on to say that tourism is important for Nottingham. We do need to capitalise on Robin Hood!

And, in the introduction by Managing Director, Robert Hartley, he said, “The view is that the next 12 months will remain difficult, with only weak economic growth and the inevitable election giving people ‘food for thought’. The prediction is for owner occupier markets to be challenging. However, there are the first signs of developers and house builders renewing interest in sensibly priced opportunities in a market that saw little activity in 2009.”

I blogged this week about Nottingham City Councils move to Loxley House and our research showed that this 213,000 sq ft acquisition skewed the figures in 2009 – accounting for nearly 50% of the office floorspace taken up!

As for rents in Nottingham:

Offices – prime rents have remained consistently at just shy of £20 psf
Industrial – prime have slipped back below £6 psf and are now at 2006 levels
Retail – High Street – prime have slipped back to around £225 Zone A – from a high of over £250
Retail – out of town – fairly flat for ope A1 use at around £30 psf

For more details of the figures – and of those for Derby & Leicester you can email me at the office – . I will happily send you a copy of the research.

The final speaker was Mark Chandler from Lloyds. He had some interesting figures – they lent more in Q4 2009 than they have ever lent! There was also an interesting nugget that the LTV (loan to value) is no longer the primary test for a commercial property loan. Lloyds are looking at affordability first – the ability to service the debt has become the primary consideration.

So my overall take – there has been a shift downwards, but we have fared much better as a City than some other places. We are well placed to take advantage of the upturn – which will surely come…