Words by Charlie Gallienne-Schmidt

The working week, once a stagnant beast spanning 40 to 60 hours at the same desk on the same floor in the same building with the same people. Arrival and departure times set in stone, and for decades, it seemed that nobody would dare to change that. Bosses loved it, the board loved it, and shareholders loved it. But what about the rest of us? The workforce, perhaps unaware that things could be done differently or even scared to challenge their respective head honchos. As a flex space operator, Sandbox wasn’t complaining, of course, because people being forced into work meant full offices, and full offices meant decent demand, and ultimately, commercial success.

We then saw the Digital Nomads starting to emerge, either freelancing or somehow making their tea-cosy drop-shipping business work. These Nomads were the lucky ones that managed to break free from the status quo and recover their freedom, working from anywhere in the world (bandwidth-dependent), and it seemed from the outside to be the perfect setup. Our hot-desking memberships cater to them, and we see a fair number come through each of our workspaces in London on a daily basis. However, the digital nomad movement didn’t grow into what everyone thought it would. Why was that? Well, the large corporations and startups alike weren’t going to start letting everyone work from a beach in Bali. Well not yet anyway…

Then, 2019 happened, and that’s as much as we need to say here. What that brought was working from home in its totality. It proved to both workers and bosses that things could still get done even if you weren’t in the same room. It also provided itself with challenges, leaving people feeling isolated and stir-crazy. Not everyone had a beautiful conservatory to work from, nor an electric standing desk. Lots of people were actually desperate to get back to the office!

When teams were allowed to start coming back to work, hybrid working was born, and it still makes up the majority of startup working structures we see at Sandbox Workspace. Being an affordable workspace operator, we see lots of it, where perhaps founders don’t feel as pressured to squeeze as many hours as they can out of their premium shiny workspace to justify the spend. Fewer people in the office is generally great for our operation, believe it or not. All of our offices are technically full, even if they are 60% less trodden. This means we see more meeting room availability, which is important at our workspaces, as we don’t charge our members for meeting rooms. We also see less general wear and tear. We have to buy less coffee and fancy oat milk (also being something we offer for free), and our teams are happy not to have to share every sofa or breakout desk. We see happier people in our workspaces, too, where, generally speaking, they are using our workspace out of choice. This really translates into the energy at Sandbox.

What it does mean, though, is a completely new way of looking at office life, and with its existence, hybrid working forces founders and CEOs to make new decisions on how their teams can adopt it.

Here, I’ll introduce our three most populous founder profiles that we see at Sandbox. Firstly, you have Susan, running a sales-heavy team and has chosen to take a hardline approach: everyone is to be in the office five days a week. Next, you have Jemima, running her agency with a flexible approach, giving every team member full control as to how much they come into the office. Finally, you have Sam, offering up hybrid working but with some rules. Everyone is in on the same two days a week.

While all approaches have their merits and will work for the various businesses we have under our roof, I definitely see Sam as the clear winner. Susan knows there will never be a clunky half-in/half-not-in meeting to deal with, but her team can’t be fully happy knowing their neighbours are probably sitting in their pants while sending Friday morning emails. Jemima’s team will be happy in most cases, but maintaining company culture might fall over at some point where coworkers don’t know when each other are going to be in, which can lead to a very quiet, empty private office more regularly than not. Sam gets the best of both, organising team meetings on the days when everyone needs to be in and allowing her team to spend the work-from-home days to deep-dive into real thinking work that requires minimal distraction, and yes, perhaps doing it under a cosy duvet. Equally, Sam allows for the team members that can’t work from home to have a quieter office day for those deep-dive pieces of work. While there are plenty more ways to be doing this hybrid work thing, we definitely see the approach with some rules as the best way to go. Our only metric being the number of smiles we see on team members’ and founders’ faces alike.

Not a bad way to judge it, we think…