Office Modules May Be The Solution To Work Safely After Covid-19 | Business


WWelcome to the city of cube. Xu Weiping, a Chinese multimillionaire, has a vision for the future of office work in the post-pandemic world of Covid-19: thousands of office modules where each person works in their own 3m x 3m autonomous cube.Xu believes the coronavirus pandemic will have such a fundamental impact on the way people work that he is converting 20 newly constructed office buildings in east London into 2000 into individual cubic offices.

If the cubes, which include a kettle, fridge, microwave, video screen and fold-out bed as well as a chair and desk, prove that Xu plans to convert his entire regeneration project from 1 , £ 7 billion from 35 acres in east London in addition to 10,000 individual cubes.

The development of the Royal Albert Docks, with the city’s airport in the background. Photography: Gg Archard

Xu’s Advanced Business Parks (ABP) had spent years negotiating a deal to redevelop the Royal Albert Docks, which overlooks London City Airport in the Docklands. The development was finally approved in 2015 by then Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who toasted the deal in a lavish ceremony at Mansion House.

The project was, Xu said, very popular, with potential tenants agreeing to rent more than half of the 21 buildings constructed during the first phase of development.

Architect's plan for a Cube City workspace.

Architect’s plan for a cubic city workspace. Photograph: Xu Weiping / ABP

But then the coronavirus hit and only one tenant – automation technology company Advantech UK – moved in.

The pandemic is the latest in a long list of setbacks for the Royal Albert Docks project, which has also been hit by Brexit, delays in the Crossrail transport project (which will have a station at the nearby ExCel center) and a deterioration of Sino-British relations.

Xu, who owns 90% of ABP’s parent company, said he was a billionaire until he invested his money in the Royal Albert Docks project. “I was a billionaire, but not anymore. The virus is only one of the reasons. Brexit has caused many UK assets to depreciate, ”he said.

Xu said he has spent every day since the start of the pandemic thinking about ways to secure the future of development. “I realized that maybe we need to be prepared that the virus could stay with us for a long time,” Xu said in a translated interview on Zoom. “We will need to create an environment in which we can work safely, reduce exposure to public transport and increase happiness at work.”

His answer is the one-to-one office, where colleagues and freelancers can work close to each other, but mostly safely autonomously in their own pods. “We think it’s the first of its kind in the UK or even worldwide,” Xu said. “It will completely change the office environment.”

A shot of the interior of a cube city pod.

The interior of a cube city pod. Photograph: Xu Weiping / ABP

Xu said the cubes are designed to combine the best parts of working from home with the equipment and collaboration of a traditional office. “The cube is an individual space enjoyed by one person,” he says. “Inside this cube, the person can do their work but also rest and relax. The cube comes equipped with a multi-functional wall, including a coffee maker, mini-fridge, and daybed, all of which can be hidden away when you’re working.

He said a prototype cube will open as a showroom within two months, and expects the first tenants to arrive in the fall. The cost of the cubes has yet to be set, but he said they would cost between £ 800 and £ 1,600 per month. Xu said the cost per person would be 20% to 50% more expensive than a desk in a traditionally furnished office, but said his cubes “will provide more convenience and be of much better quality.”

“We will target customers who are reluctant to return to their normal office environment,” Xu said. “Even if the government asks workers to return to the office, people are not going. We all want an individual space. It will be an individual space integrating the advantages of working from home. ”

Anna Codrea-Rado, co-host of the popular career podcast, Is This Working ?, said that individual office modules like the ones offered by Xu could be essential in helping large numbers of people be more productive after months struggle to work in chaotic homes.

“Maybe that’s what will happen in the future,” Codrea-Rado said. “People worry about busy desks and aren’t interested in collaborative workspaces due to the security of viruses.

“At the same time, it’s really hard when people are living with roommates and everyone is trying to work from home. But I don’t know how realistic it is that people can pay so much for it.

Xu believes it will be years before office work returns to what it was before the pandemic.

According to Xu, elevators are a danger that many people overlook. “Office buildings are usually multi-storey and we use elevators to take them up,” he says. “Elevators are very confined spaces that a lot of people share and are often denser than the tube.” Its offices, six or seven floors, will have wide staircases.

Xu’s Cubes, which are created by east London design firm Egg Limited, will be connected to a center of shared services, including printers, scanners, kitchens, restaurants, laundry rooms and bathrooms. multimedia broadcasting. It also promises a team of on-site lawyers and accountants that freelancers or small businesses can turn to for advice.

Each floor of 18 cubes will also include showers. Xu said the additional facilities would encourage workers to spend more time at the site, thereby reducing public transport use and exposure to the virus.

He said showers would be regularly cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of the virus. “If you think of a VIP lounge at an airport, first class passengers have showers before flights and [some] A380 planes have shower rooms. If they can guarantee security, we can guarantee that the virus does not spread in this environment. ”

When asked if the workers could end up spending the night in the cube, Xu said it will be actively encouraged. “The facilities will be so good that they can support our workers if they have to work on a project overnight,” he says. “I will take a cube myself and spend a few nights in it to avoid travel.

“The working environment in most traditional offices is quite boring and very few are human-centric,” said Xu, who has lived in north London since the virus hit the UK in March. “After eight hours people want to leave and go to the pub or to a park. With our office, people want to stay. “


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