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Show time! New approaches to workplace hospitality

Starring roles, glamorous entrances, and a sense of occasion – David Thame invites us to take the best seat in the house as the curtain rises on new approaches to workspace hospitality.

25/03/2020 4 min read
Import Building at Republic. Photo: Dirk Lindner

Once upon a time, property developers were basically like God: they ordered buildings, and there were buildings, and they saw that they were good. Thereafter, they mutely received the offerings of their grateful tenants, monthly, in the form of rent. And if you think that’s a touch extreme, then maybe you didn’t meet many property developers in the 1980s – they always conveyed the certainty that they were beings of a higher order.

Today, a property developer is what exactly? An accountant, an engineer, a procurer of investment funding, an administrator? Look closely at London-based investor/developer, Trilogy, and you may find the answer: a property developer today resembles the producer of a West End show, and every day is a new performance.

Laurence Jones is Head of Asset Management at Trilogy Real Estate. He joined the firm in 2017 after periods in asset management with ING Real Estate and surveyors CBRE.

Laurence agrees that, just like a showbiz producer, developers pull all the pieces together and make sure that the show can always go on. From attracting investors, choosing designers and providing star roles for amenity providers, through to creating an attractive backdrop of spaces and planting, down to the bums-on-seats business of making sure there is always a full house/workspace.

W London. Photo: James Newton

The spot-lit role of hospitality is a special focus of this new role, and nowhere is it more apparent than at Trilogy’s 720,000 sq ft Republic London development at East India Dock. The latest to take to the stage in an eclectic cabaret of amenity providers is award-winning whisky bar, Black Rock, perfect for an after-work dram with the team. The independent operator will take a step up from their existing East London bar to take a much larger part at Republic. They open this spring.

‘Theatre producer? Absolutely. That’s a fantastic way to put it,’ says Laurence. ‘The question we’re asking ourselves is, how do we make sure that the people who are paying us money are happy?

‘This is the next generation of workspace. It’s not the future, because workspace is still evolving and will always evolve. We haven’t arrived at a destination, but this is one stop on the way as working habits change,’ he explains.

‘It’s about creating a good place. Somewhere that was once all concrete and bus stops and exhaust fumes can become a place where you can wander, sit and eat. The kind of place where people have light-bulb moments – and those always come on the move, not when you’re trapped at your desk tapping away like a battery hen.’

This is where hospitality walks onto the stage. ‘Hospitality is the social glue. It blends together the decent bars and restaurants, and the genuine independent retailers for which there is an enormous appetite, and the customer service, which is what we have to provide,’ he says.

Trilogy employ a specialist community engagement team to keep their workspace animated and successful. ‘Hospitality isn’t about pushing things as part of your agenda, it is about having things there when they want them. Stimuli, really.

‘Our job is to make the customer experience as frictionless as possible so that our occupiers can have the best, most productive, most powerful work experience they can, and do all that without them really having to think about it. So, for instance, we’ve arranged for barbers and hairdressers and all kinds of services so they can get it done in the day, and leave the weekend free. That helps everyone,’ he explains.

Laurence says that developers have learned that their audience is no longer a single, fairly homogeneous group of occupiers who all want pretty much the same experience (or lack of it). Instead, they have a cross-section of users with very different needs. Some want a few weeks of good studio space, some want 20 years of corporate HQ – quite possibly all in the same building.

The difficulty is that multi-let buildings with a variety of tenures come at a cost. It also comes fairly slowly, because whilst most of the world is used to a tap-it-and-its-done approach to life, the construction business is still slow to deliver (and probably always will be).

‘Yes, for developers, flexibility comes at a cost, because we have to build in facilities for breakout areas, or kitchens, and provide superb broadband connectivity, but that is generally reflected in a premium rent,’ Laurence explains.

Exact figures are hard to find, but industry sources suggest the kind of floorspace Trilogy provide at Republic attracts a rental premium of 10-20%. With construction costs up but by rather less, the appeal to developers is clear.

W London. Photo: Hufton + Crow

Laurence warns against exaggerating the difference of today’s office market, or to imagine this is some kind of turning point. ‘We’ve been talking about the death of the traditional office for 15 years or longer, and it is still here. But what we are seeing is the growth of a serviced office sector, which meets other needs. We’ll see some consolidation in that serviced sector, but there is room for plenty of operators,’ he says.

Today, Trilogy is probably best known for its work in London. But watch out, they are moving beyond the M25. Trilogy have long had an interest in Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse. The six-acre site on Deansgate has been nurturing plans to boost the office content of the scheme. It could make its core the kind of campus they have at Republic London.

‘We 100% want to factor this into what we do in Manchester,’ says Laurence. So watch this space – or perhaps watch this stage – because Trilogy have another show coming soon.ω

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