This sounds like an appeal for the kind of agile international tech businesses that have started to migrate to King’s Cross ahead of the Google move – but Zac insists it isn’t. ‘Once, we might have said that 3,000 sq ft suites appealed to businesses with 40-50 staff. But today I think we’re appealing to companies with 150-ish staff, but who don’t all come into the office at once,’ he says.
The calculation is that big corporates and professionals will opt for an office pied a terre to help new recruits, younger team members and those who need to touch down in town to meet and share. ‘It is about soaking up the company culture,’ Zac says.
What makes this interesting is that Zac is determined to offer tenants flexibility (at a price) and to rethink his role as landlord. NorthHill will not be a distant figure, piling up the money, but a partner helping make business work. That, rather than the idea of city centre offices, will be the real victim of the pandemic.
‘The idea of landlord and tenant will be the real casualty of 2020,’ Zac insists. ‘Many landlords have learned for the first time about the importance of being attuned to the needs of their customers. They have to be less about lettings, and more about being responsible corporate citizens who deliver a compelling product.’
This matters to the world of office design because it means a more constant, more integrated conversation between landlords and tenants about the way their floorspace works. NorthHill are, for instance, borrowing an idea from the serviced office sector by creating community managers to help keep tenants happy, and by investing in smart technology to monitor air quality, power use and occupancy.
‘We need to develop listening buildings, and I think some landlords are in denial about this and the challenges we face, thanks to coronavirus. Which doesn’t mean just problems, there could be some surprises that propel the property business forward,’ considers Zac.
This might involve using buildings in different ways at different times of the day to ensure floorspace is delivering the best results for occupiers. ‘Obviously, an office building works differently at 3pm on a Monday than it does at 10am on a Thursday. Data analysis will show that, and clever people are already adjusting how they use floorspace based on occupancy,’ says Zac.
These trends – ‘incubated during a crisis’ – will make huge differences to the way office space works, regardless of the impact on the volume of floorspace occupied.
‘It is the way we work that will change,’ Zac concludes.