‘Success is subjective’: Q+A with Chris Davies, CEO of Uncommon
With flexible working becoming more popular, is there space for more traditional working environments, or should workplaces incorporate a healthier and more relaxed atmosphere? We spoke to Chris Davies, CEO of Uncommon, the flexible workspace, about healthier workplaces, expansion, and ESG initiatives.
What inspired you to become CEO?
Inspiration is an interesting thing. I don’t think anyone is inspired to be a CEO, as it’s just a title. What I am inspired by is building a business with purpose and working with my team to create the best company we can.
In what ways does flexible workspaces promote a healthier way of working?
I think the sector has demonstrated that the office can and should be more. For too long, people accepted bland, unhealthy environments, and companies viewed real estate and people as costs rather than investments.
Flexible workspaces drove the removal of rigid rules with a focus on users and their experience rather than just maximising space. Uncommon focuses on creating healthy, productive space that is designed specifically for the activity; there are areas for collaborative work, group meetings, and places to socialise, as well as spots for quiet, focused work or private spaces for calls. At Uncommon, these are all interspersed with plants, ergonomic furniture, and plenty of natural light.
We also offer access to fitness classes, Peloton bikes, meditation pods, and some of the best and most beautifully designed workspaces in London, which feel more like being in a restaurant than an office. Our approach to flexible working is to provide our clients with the tools in the space which naturally promote productivity, creativity, and well-being of those who work in them.
Companies need offices (places to come together) to create a healthy company culture.
Do you have any plans to expand outside of London?
We’re opening our fifth site in London in 2023, with plans for expansion across London and then further afield in the future.
What is the future of London’s office spaces with ESG regulations?
Buildings, in general, need to decarbonise while creating better spaces for everyone. Companies, rather than specific regulation, is driving the demand change. The best companies are making commitments to be Net-Zero by 2030, and this requires their offices to be a certain standard…..interestingly 95%+ of London’s companies are yet to be at that standard. Current stock is at odds with the expediting demand from companies who want new age, ESG focussed, design-led spaces to compete to attract staff.
The problem is that London has an age problem, 64% of current commercial buildings in London were completed or refurbished before the year 2000. London has 270m sq ft of office space and only refurbishes a maximum of 15m sq ft a year, so many offices will be obsolete within eight years.
Uncommon has been agile in ensuring it’s ahead of this target with work already complete ensuring we are on track to be net-zero by 2023, providing future-proof spaces for our members.
How will you encourage people to return to the office when there is a continuous drive to work from home?
Is there? We at Uncommon have never been so busy. What’s apparent is that if companies provide the right environment, team members want to be in their office space. It needs to be an environment that’s better than their alternative, a destination that helps workers operate, as well as providing options for socialising and time for their well-being. If companies choose the right office environment, people want to come together in it. It’s that simple.
Do you have any opinions on the drive towards the 2030 goal of being carbon neutral?
Carbon neutrality is a step towards Net Zero – which is the ultimate, and most impactful goal. Reducing the footprint, we have on the environment is critical. As businesses, we have a chance to make a real impact and lead by example.
Our aim is to be Carbon Neutral in 2023, and Net Zero by 2027. At Uncommon, we have the benefit of being able to support our members on their own ESG journey.
Can you explain the ESG compliance that may be difficult for entrepreneurs to understand?
Businesses need to improve but best practices are constantly evolving against a backdrop of limited legislation at this point. ESG is such a broad topic and what is relevant in one industry may be less so in others. Office space needs to make moves towards being net-zero, essentially concentrating on the ‘E’ of ESG, and all businesses should be thinking about it holistically.
Ultimately, ESG needs to be more than just compliance and a set of standards. I believe in time all companies will have to demonstrate and disclose how they’re striving towards goals of making a more positive impact.
How is Uncommon preparing for the recession?
The business has been built on very strong foundations. We are different from most flexible office providers due to the fact we own our buildings rather than taking leases.
The prospect of a recession is never welcome, but we’re confident that the clear proposition we provide, coupled with our ESG strategy, has already prepared Uncommon to operate within the future market.
How much will future changes in legislation lead to businesses having their rent/occupation costs increase?
Considerably. Businesses will need compliant space, and it currently doesn’t exist, so there will be more demand than supply.
What drove you to be successful?
Success is subjective. My drive to be successful is to ensure Uncommon and the team are successful in whatever metrics that may be.
How do you find a work-life balance?
Physical exercise for me has more impact on my mental well-being than it does physically. My current outlet is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I find it incredibly helpful to ensure I’m in the best mental and physical position I can be.