Portico and Friends: Exploring the Office Revival

Portico & Friends
22 November 2023

Welcome back to the second instalment of our ‘Portico and Friends’ panel discussions, where we delve into the pressing questions surrounding the long-anticipated return to the office.

In this thought-provoking session, our expert panellists share their insights, experiences, and tips as they explore navigating the evolving landscape of work arrangements, from remote and hybrid models to the traditional office setup, providing a glimpse into the post-pandemic workplace.

What valuable insights have we gained from the last two years of remote work, and how can we understand the exciting developments that have emerged during this period?

Bobby Izzard, Founder, Vocalize: It’s somewhat alarming that the UK workforce is among the least engaged in Europe, with 90% of workers saying they lack enthusiasm for their work and workplace.

In London, we’re witnessing the construction of these incredible towering structures, like 40 Leadenhall. As these mega-buildings are going up, they are accompanied by a people strategy where we are working on creating a sense of community, aiming to entice employees back into the office. To me, this idea of community building is what will draw others back in.

Charlotte O’Donnell, Senior Client Services Senior Manager at PwC UK:
Well-being is huge focus for us, both holistically and from a physical perspective in the workplace design and environment. We created Moments of Joy for our people, where our teams gave out treats on random days to bring people Joy as they came into the office. A special one being our “brew for two” activity at PwC, with vegan cookies, herbal teabags and coffee bags given out with the message to take a break and a well-being conversation with a colleague. It’s about creating a supportive atmosphere where people can connect and de-stress. We are ‘human-led and tech-powered’.

Focusing on these concepts, how would you say the role of guest services expanded?

Paola Roson, Portico Head of Welcome Services UK at PwC: The role of guest services has expanded significantly, and it presents a new challenge. Some team members have performed the same role for many years, but the world around us has changed. In the past, our primary focus was ensuring guests were comfortable in their rooms and satisfied with their coffee, teas, drinks, and food. Now, we also have to intensify our efforts to check rooms more thoroughly to meet new needs, including accommodating tech requirements and making the most of the available space, but also we are an active part of the return to the office piece, by engaging with our clients on the floors and making them feel supported and safe.

Top tips for encouraging purposeful presence within the workplace?

Charlotte: What is productivity? It’s a question that has evolved, particularly in the context of the changing workplace experience and our return to the office. When I look back on the most productive moments I’ve had at work in the last couple of days, one stands out – a conversation I had with our director. Ordinarily, I might not have initiated such a chat. However, this conversation turned out to be incredibly insightful and valuable.

It made me realize that what we’re aiming for, and what we haven’t quite mastered yet, is the ideal balance between working from home and being in the office. When working from home, a typical day is filled with a series of virtual meetings and calls, all while you’re at home. While there’s undeniable convenience in this setup, I’ve found that the true value often lies in being present at the workplace, where I’m more available for spontaneous interactions and conversations.

Chris, Co-Founder, Audiem: In my view, it’s understanding why would people come back to the office. Anytime I’ve seen an organisation force a certain policy on that workforce, it hasn’t gone very well.

It’s important to go into these conversations with an open mind: what is it that we can do to get you back in the office? What can we do to support your work, and what role does the office play in that? I don’t think the workplace sector culturally has the right test-and-learn mindset but needs to start adapting this way. That did work. Let’s change that. Let’s see what happens.

Paola: For me, it’s going back to that idea of bringing in another generation and making them feel part of their community. When people are now thinking, ‘I want to work from home’, it’s really important to make them understand that working from home isn’t always right for them. My flat is my home, and it means peace. If it is my office too, it’s not very good for my mental well-being.

Instead, have the team talks, and have those meetings in person. This is a career that you can have here, not just a job.

Bobby: I would say my number one – and this applies to any setting where you’re welcoming some of the visitors and occupiers – is the alignment of service partners.

I think just really getting that collaboration from the teams together in any setting where you’re managing a service is absolutely key. The same goes for open communication and a clear outline of business outcomes and goals. What the client wants from me and everyone working on the project. What’s your goal? What’s your aim? When do you want to have this?

Also, just expect change. As Chris said, it’s that trial and test method. The property manager of old’s job was to keep the lights on, but now it’s all about guest services, you’re running spaces with an iPad, you might need to look after the cycle store, you might need to manage the showers, be an AV technician. The range of tasks for guest services is now endless, and in a way, I think it’s great and exciting, but it can be a lot. So, it’s expecting this change, especially in this market.