While shops and restaurants are beginning to return to some semblance of normality, the evidence of coronavirus is still stark in London’s commercial districts.
The City, perhaps more than anywhere, remains a ghost-town, its skyscrapers empty and its streets unclogged by the half a million commuters who used to make their daily pilgrimage.
Offices will gradually find ways to keep people socially distanced as more people return to work, but the ‘normal’ we eventually settle into will inevitably be different to the one we left behind.
One of the most interesting aspects of this is trying to divine the future of the physical office. Lockdown, of course, came with many drawbacks, but it was remarkable how quickly companies were able to adapt to having a remote workforce.
Now that the laptops have been couriered and the Zoom meetings have been deemed a success, there’s not a CEO in the land who isn’t eyeing their annual rent bill and wondering if perhaps they may be able to trim it a little.
The most likely scenario is a more flexible attitude to working from home, with some office space retained but workers able to choose when to commute in and when to stay at home.
Entrepreneur-focused members’ club Home Grown Club’s general manager Joost de Kruiff sees an opportunity in this new normal. While his business was forced to close alongside the rest of the country in March, he believes spaces like Home Grown will become increasingly important parts of the post-covid landscape.
“We have seen an appetite for people to meet in smaller numbers,” he says. “We had noticed the flexi-work trend before Covid even began. With modern technology, the need for an office has dissipated, allowing people to work from wherever they are.”
Instead, he sees workers using spaces like Home Grown to meet clients, or to get some work done after commuting in for meetings.
“We are a great space for people to host business meetings and develop their network. We have 35 boutique bedrooms for members to book at competitive rates, making us the perfect place for out of towners to stay when they come into London.
“We have already received a lot of membership applications from people who have given up their London offices and are looking for a place that they can meet their clients, host meetings and entertain. We have also seen an appetite for people to meet in smaller numbers, which we are well set up to accommodate.”
The fact Home Grown is a club exclusive to “visionary entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders” also makes it a natural choice for those wanting to take advantage of networking opportunities, with a huge roster of talks, seminars and events.
I visited the Marylebone club one blistering afternoon at the start of the summer heatwave, and it certainly feels like an environment where one can get things done. The converted townhouse (actually three townhouses knocked together) is filled with nooks and crannies perfect for intimate meetings, and larger spaces are kitted out with the latest video conferencing kit for more formal gatherings.
“We recognise the new need for hybrid events,” says de Kruiff. “People need the ability to combine both physical and virtual, and we’re adapting our business technology accordingly.”
The social spaces – now socially distanced, of course – are designed with a combination of period features and modern flourishes, with statement splashes of colour and lots of layering of textures. It’s nice, basically, the kind of place you can flip open your laptop and lose yourself in some spreadsheets for a couple of hours, perhaps while enjoying a nice glass of wine from the excellently stocked bar.
• Home Grown reopened in July before taking a break for August, and will open again in September. For more information go to homegrownclub.co.uk, visit 44 Great Cumberland Pl, Marylebone, W1H 7BS, or call 020 3928 8000