I’m looking out over the marketplace. It’s a glorious day in St Albans – definitely a day for grabbing a sandwich from Gail’s and taking a walk by the Abbey. The WorkLocal hub is busy today – I guess a lot of folks were thinking the same thing, working near to home and enjoying the good weather.
The WorkLocal St Albans hub is located on the high street – it’s a bright airy space with a great Community Manager and a good vibe. It operates on a freemium model with a large area for casual coworking and bookable desks available on a pay-as-you-go basis. You can help yourself to hot drinks, but there are plenty of coffee shops around if you want to grab a barista brew once in a while. My coworkers are a mix of freelancers, small businesses, those that work for corporates with a head office in London as well as full-time parents, job seekers, students and retirees. They are largely from the local community, but we also get our share of international visitors dropping in. This particular hub is a collaboration between the council, a large tech company and a well-known high street retailer. It’s not the only coworking provision – there is a great selection of other offers, depending on your need and budget. The public service ethos of WorkLocal has meant that it’s trusted by the community – we benefit from some volunteer technical roles that are able to help local residents navigate an increasing complex technical life. I mean, when your GP prescribes you an app or a wearable and you don’t know what that is, where else would you go for help?
It’s worth reflecting on the journey we’ve been on to get here. What seems very commonplace now – with many knowledge workers benefitting from a mix of home working, near to home working and central office – was a long haul. As technology – both devices and good connectivity – started to become an enabler of remote work more than two decades ago, there have been several movements around flexible working, coworking, organisational design and change management all working independently. The first inklings of this at scale in the UK were with the London 2012 Olympics where workers were encouraged to keep out of the capital for 6 weeks to free up capacity on the transport network for Olympic visitors. Slow progress was made in many domains for 8 years or so, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 global pandemic hit that we collectively conducted the world’s biggest working from home experiment. So while that accelerated the remote working trend, the circumstances were less than ideal and it’s taken much effort in all of those connected domains above for us to arrive at the ‘new normal’ as it was once hailed. Change is hard and it’s taken an Olympics and a pandemic to normalise this way of working at scale.
That said, it’s hard to believe looking back that we ever commuted 5 days a week into cities. It’s not just about wasted time, it’s about being able to spend more time and money in our communities. It’s about recognising digital as a ‘mode’ of transportation. There will always be a need for face-to-face collaboration, but many are now empowered to make decisions about where they work which is ultimately better for them and better for the planet. Decoupling proximity to the office and the concept of productive work has enabled more of a levelling up agenda in the UK which has gone someway to narrowing the digital divide.
So, if time travel ever becomes a thing in the future and you happen to be reading this in 2021, get in touch and join us on the journey to WorkLocal!