Charlie Green, co-founder of The Office Group sat down with Blackstock Consulting’s Andrew Teacher in the latest episode of our BossCast series to discuss the future of the work, why sustainability is at the core of its strategy and why he wants to be everyone’s flexible friend.
“We’re seeing a truly significant moment in time where real estate companies have gone from thinking about how they can address occupier needs, to talking about them, to actually doing something about it,” muses Charlie Green, co-founder at The Office Group (TOG).
Crucially for Green, described by many in the industry as “the nice guy of real estate”, TOG’s pivot towards housing major corporates, tech firms and listed companies hasn’t involved losing any of the creative charm or buzz that has made the group popular with start-ups and high growth firms who, pre-pandemic, were the typical customers of co-working operators.
BP was one major corporate to move into TOG during lockdown, taking 700 desk spaces that can be used by 1000 employees who will also have access to meeting rooms and lounges across all sites. Green believes this flexible membership model will help its customers thrive.
As a Blackstone backed company, ESG is at the forefront of TOG’s values – something that plays out the operation and design of its workspaces, as well as its own culture. It’s an area Green comes alive discussing, explaining how “sustainability has always been a key consideration for us and our clients”.
“That’s why we use green roofs, solar panels and recycled materials, to name just a few of our sustainability initiatives,” he explains.
Perhaps the most significant example of TOG’s commitment to sustainability is the Black & White building in Shoreditch. Designed by timber specialists, Waugh Thistleton architects, it is London’s first all-timber office structure. Not only is its biophilic cross-laminated timber design proven to promote occupier wellbeing, but the material produces 60 percent less embodied carbon than concrete alternatives, with the timber alone naturally sequestering 945 tons of Carbon Dioxide.
Better still, it looks amazing. And despite its contrast with the stone and steel of the narrow Shoreditch streets that wrap around it, the design naturally fits into the edgy surroundings of Rivington Street.
Beyond the Black & White building, TOG has a further six buildings under construction opening in the next 18 months, with workspaces in both London and Germany opening throughout 2022 – the next of which is TOG’s 210 Euston Road office, due to open in spring.
When asked how the office sector had evolved in the pandemic, Green notes that “online platforms will be a fundamental tool of how we do business together moving forward”, but are not going to be the main thrust of future work patterns.
Green believes that more than 60 percent of the future working week will be spent in the office, and so “it’s about the employees, it’s not about the CEO or CFO”.
“If you’re not listening to your employees, then you’re in real trouble,” Green adds. He admits it’s tough to keep hold of people in this market, so he describes TOG’s model as one that “listens to those demands and delivers on the environment and the service.”
The model certainly seems to be working. The volume of enquiries for office space is at the highest level TOG has seen since starting 18 years ago, whilst also achieving the highest conversion rates for lettings in that time.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, of the 1,250 companies served by TOG’s 53 properties, “over half came to us for some kind of financial support,” Green says. “We assessed every individual’s situation and dealt with it accordingly. Having a relationship with these people is the best business practice for a company that sees itself as here for the long-term”.
One location where demand is soaring is at King’s Cross, where TOG plans a huge new 170,000 sq ft development in partnership with Argent. “It’s going to target everybody, bringing people together in a state-of-the-art space,” says Green.
“It will ensure that King’s Cross sets the standard for a new era of work, offering greater flexibility, service and sustainability,” said Robert Evans, managing partner at Argent.
The scheme, located between Handyside Street and York Way, shows TOG’s move to engage more in collaborative partnerships. “We want people to come together”, Green notes, and the King’s Cross collaboration could signpost a future in working with other partners at the forefront of the service office market.
“I suspect the majority of sectoral growth will come from partnerships”, says Green, who has already entered revenue share managed agreements with Derwent, and notes the success of British Land’s Storey Club. These agreements provide an “opportunity for both providers to widen their access to occupiers and to generate higher returns”.
Talking openly about his beginnings, Green recalls that upon entering the real estate industry in 1997, he was “perplexed by the very linear relationship between landlord and tenant”. For Green, who cut his teeth working for Richard Balfour-Lynn’s MWB, “there seemed to be a real lack of creativity in the delivery of the product”.
So, in 2003, Green co-founded The Office Group with partner Olly Olsen to be “advocates for change”. Now, 18 years on, and with 53 properties and more in the pipeline, TOG is one of the UK’s leading office developers and operators.
“We couldn’t understand that an office worker spent the majority of their hours in an environment they wanted to get away from,” Green says of why he started TOG. “There was a disconnect there that we needed to address”. This disconnect inspired him to action, replacing the “vanilla, bland, and corporate” office spaces of the past with flexible and sustainable work spaces, specifically catered to every individual client need.
After 18 years in business, Green believes the focus on flexibility, innovation, and the individual occupier needs is what gives TOG the edge: “London is a tough place to do business, it’s competitive, and we’re where we are because we’re good at what we do.”