Maverick serial entrepreneur and tech cluster expert Claire Cockerton on how Covid is reshaping the office, what makes a great tech cluster and how to make innovation centres more women-founder-friendly
I magine a tech incubator workspace buzzing with start-ups, and you’re probably picturing a room full of hoodie-wearing men.
“We’re just starting to realise how we’ve designed our world in accordance with the typical person, who tends to be a middle-aged white man,” says Claire Cockerton, the founder and creator of prominent tech hub and accelerator workspaces including Canary Wharf’s Level39, ENTIQ and the Olympic Park’s Plexal.
“There’s a massive data gap in knowing what women’s preferences are for working, socialising and presenting,” says Cockerton, a prominent member of Women in Tech and Women Shift Digital, and one of the 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech.
Yet considering how to attract and retain women tech-founders could dramatically change the way we design, service and locate future offices.
“We need to think about childcare and breastfeeding. Women also tend to have slightly different working patterns than men. And we need to design programmes and support services specifically for female founders, because women face so many hurdles along the investment journey.”
That means thinking about journeys to and from a workspace, too. “We have to consider not just our physical spaces but also people getting here. Do they feel safe during that process? And if something occurs, how do we address it? How do we report it?”
To ensure women felt safe at Plexal in its quiet East London parkland location, Cockerton – founder and launch CEO of Plexal – says they became ’custodians’ of the nightly walk. “In the winter months in London at Plexal, we had people standing along the transport journey from the overground and the tube station. We were the custodians of that journey.”
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But while it’s important to “surface these issues and address them,” as Cockerton says, she also stresses that the real-estate industry needs to take more responsibility: “We need to take a stand on matters.”
“If we’re running a space, we need to make sure it’s a safe space. We call out sexual harassment. We make sure it’s clear that our space is safe and inclusive.”
“If we own that building, why shouldn’t we take some responsibility? Maybe we should put up signs that say, ‘Please be respectful’ or ‘We don’t appreciate cat calling or any kind of negative comments.”
“In the real estate industry, we tend to be more passive and maybe we need to start signalling socially what kind of behaviours we expect in our spaces.”
“If we’re running a space, we need to make sure it’s a safe space. We call out sexual harassment. We make sure it’s clear that our space is safe and inclusive”
As for the move towards remote working, Cockerton – who now runs her own consultancy Cockerton & Co – believes the way we lease office space will be forced to adapt, and at speed. “People will always want to work with one another, but everyone is seeing the successes and opportunities of virtual working.
“Their teams are starting to go and live in different places, and be closer to family, and don’t feel like they have to get an expensive one-bedroom apartment in London.”
As a result, when it comes to office space, Cockerton believes, “It will be much more pay-you-go."
“You might buy a meeting room on Mondays and Tuesdays from 12-5 and that’s all you’ll want to pay for”
“If the product is an office or a meeting room that you originally let on a one, five or ten-year lease, we’re going to see that shrink,” she says.
“I think we’re going to see the demand for smaller space for less time, and a lot more flexibility integrated into the leases… For example, instead of having an office for 100% of the time, you might buy a meeting room on Mondays and Tuesdays from 12-5 and that’s all you’ll want to pay for.”
“The companies that will capture new business will be the ones that will be able to operationalise the reduction in offering and pay-as-you-go offers.”
“Smaller companies are realising there are cost efficiencies to be had,” Cockerton says. “Flexibility is incredibly important.”
Learn about designing for the needs of women to make better places and cities at Festival of Place: Gender Equal Cities over three afternoons, 7-9 June www.festivalofplace.co.uk
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