The Third Space

One of the few positive elements to come out of Covid-19 for many people has been the removal from their lives of the drudgery that is the daily commute to the office. Meanwhile, one of the downsides for many people during this prolonged period of lockdowns has been the enforced working from home scenario within confined spaces unsuited to conducting productive work.

This has led to the ongoing argument over whether people will return to offices or whether they will continue to work from home. Some companies including the big technology firms like Twitter and Facebook have made it clear they do not expect their employees to return at all if they choose
not to. Whereas others like investment bank Goldman Sachs have, with some clarity, suggested they want everybody back in the office yesterday. The sensible approach, being supported by many organisations, is to take the middle ground and enable a flexible, hybrid approach mixing
office and home working.

Working from the pub?

What seems to have been overlooked is that this is not a black and white argument – office or home? There is another option. Such is the lengthy period we’ve been denied access to coffee bars, pubs, bars, restaurants, hotel lobbies, members clubs and any other four-walls beyond our
homes is that we seem to have almost forgotten that there is a third place (as Starbucks has long referred to its coffee bars) where work can be conducted. It is free from the constraints of both the home and the office.
This surely represents an enormous opportunity for the hospitality and foodservice sectors.

We’d already had a taste of what things could be like when the first lockdown was eased and people decamped from their homes with laptops in hand to work wherever they could find cover from the rain/sun, Wi-Fi access, and refreshments. Various operators including Young & Co’s swiftly
brought in hot desking-type offers with Wi-Fi access, unlimited hot drinks, and maybe a sandwich or snack for lunch also included for a modest fixed fee. Such initiatives were beginning to gain some traction when the second lockdown was brought in but come May 19 then such activity should be restarted as the demand for these services will surely be sufficiently strong.

Recent data from Streetbees suggests one-in-three people would be
happy working from a bar/restaurant post-Covid-19. I’ve already got my hopes up that such a deal will be introduced at my local pub. Like many such venues located outside a city centre it has typically been relatively quiet from noon until late afternoon on weekdays. Introducing hot desking-type propositions seem like a sure-fire way to drive extra footfall during these down-times, generate additional revenues, potentially draw in
new customers local to the area, and for anybody still toiling away at the end of the day there is the opportunity to tempt them into having a beer or a glass wine – or maybe two.

What better way to seamlessly end the day. Such initiatives will be essential for businesses as they look to drag themselves back into profitable
territory. The sweating of assets will be high up the agenda of every hospitality company. Helping them on their paths to recovery will be the incredible innovative mindsets they have adopted over the past year developing new revenue generating activities. To continue these will be imperative in order to pay down various accrued arrears.

The recent appointment by Hawksmoor of Jo Fleet to head up its At Home meal kits and delivery operations as well as overseeing its retail offer that currently involves a steak range sold through Ocado is indicative of the importance now being placed on these new channels. Expect to see
more such moves as the industry reshapes itself for a new era with newly-empowered channel agnostic customers who are just as likely to be found working in the pub as they are in an office or at home.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.