Most people can remember the last time they left the office when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020. For me, I remember boarding an Eastbound District Line train from my then office in Hammersmith, London, with my monitor in an IKEA bag and a bunch of cables that I thought I might need in my new life working from home. I remember saying to my colleague, “Well, I’ll see you on Zoom I guess until we’re back in.” As it turned out, the first UK lockdown came 5 days later and we would never return to that office.
Like so many people, my commute to work that day, now almost 2 years ago, was my last one. The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how, when and where we spend our time. Pre-Covid, for most people the majority of working time was spent in an office. Not only was the office the default place for work itself, but it was also the central node for many other aspects of life – the place where friendships were made and experiences were shared.
Covid brought this reality to an abrupt, and unceremonious end. Suddenly in-person interaction was not just against the rules but dangerous for personal and public health. What followed was the fastest, most fundamental redistribution of our time in modern history. Individuals were forced to stay at home, and in so doing conduct every one of their activities from home too; shopping, socialising and of course, working. This spurred a wave of innovation in collaboration platforms, async work tools, and an unprecedented e-commerce boom as people filled their homes with all they needed for this new solidarity, perpetual snow day. Employers were also forced to adapt, the previously perpetual debate on the ‘efficiency’ of working from home was suddenly over – it was happening.
In the physical world this shift was having a profound impact on our cities and built environment. Once-thronging downtowns which, for most of civilized history, have been the de facto hubs for work & social activities were suddenly hollowed-out, ghost towns. Real estate values in city centres plunged, restaurant and service spaces boarded up as footfall fell off a cliff. Residential neighborhoods, once themselves ghost towns during work hours, overnight became the new, decentralised, hearts of cities; the places where many people now spent the majority of their time.
As lockdowns swept across the globe, the ‘temporary’ new normal crossed the 1 month threshold, then 6, then 12. With every month this new reality was further embedded in people’s lives and the concept of the ‘return to normal’ became more questionable. We started to see steps taken to preserve the new normal. Families reconsidered where they lived – no longer did they need to pay higher rent to live in a city center. Employers recalculated the value of physical offices, now sitting dormant for >12 months. Google, Facebook and many more now allowed employees to work from home permanently – and, just like that, what started as a reactive decision was now proactive – the tables were turned.
It was at this point that I too started to look around the spare bedroom that I had been working in since that day back in March 2020. I no longer had an office to go back to, and my focus turned for the first time from the near term to the long term – this was reality now, so where did I actually want to spend my time, long term.
I realised that whilst I didn’t miss the office in of itself, I missed the connection that it brought to my life. I didn’t miss the commute, or the requirement to be there for certain hours every week, but I did miss the spontaneous lunches and the genuine friendships that it helped to facilitate. In other words, I missed being with people. About this time I called my friend, and now co-founder Jermaine – incidentally one such friendship I owe to a physical workspace – and he too was feeling the same. So I called someone else, and again the same. It was immediately obvious that collectively, people were now framing their thinking longer than month to month, looking around and thinking – okay, what next?
I’m excited to reveal Groundfloor. This is what comes next.
Groundfloor is a third space – not office, not home, somewhere in between. It’s a fluid members-only space that doesn’t have an agenda attached. There aren’t schedules or ‘no phone call’ rules – just beautiful, flexible space in which members can connect with others, share experiences, and spend time outside the house. We are filling the void left by the demise of the physical office. A place to work, relax and share in human connection, inspired by social clubs of yesteryear, and modern community centred design, fit for the post-Covid 21st century.
Meaningful connection with other people is a fundamental requirement for a fulfilling life as a human being. It is as critical as the air we breathe or the food we eat. Covid-19 gave us an experiment that nobody asked for – what happens if we starve ourselves of this connection. The answer as it turned out was that we develop deficiencies, akin to a shortage of vitamin D in the Winter. Having been deprived of this right, people are now craving this, in a meaningful way. As we emerge from the pandemic, the desire for this is raw and widespread.
People are also tired of transactional spaces – work from a coffee shop and you’re on the clock from the moment you buy your first coffee; work from a co-working space and it’s sterile and one-dimensional. The pandemic allowed people to stop (many for the first time) and reflect on the makeup of their days. Dropping the commute allowed precious hours to be repurposed. More time for sleep, more time for exercise. Days are now fluid, social is mixed with work and the rigid pre-pandemic days are gone. Groundfloor provides the real estate to facilitate this shift. A new architectural form, required by the new reality in which we live.
We are building spaces for deep work – true sanctuaries; dark, silent libraries with the best equipment to retreat to for deep work. Switch from this to the most comfortable clubhouse you’ve ever seen. Deep sofas, soft lighting, the type of environment where you can get lost in a conversation, feel warm on a cold day and feel joy with new connections and old friends alike. We are building gyms, wellness spaces for classes and meaningful cultural programming. We’re partnering with the most delicious local food offerings in our locations, to elevate these offerings and bring these tastes to our members. We’re building a true home from home. No agenda, no pay-to-play. This isn’t co-working space. It’s not professional first, it’s not for teams. It’s for individuals, and as an individual you are free to use it as you like.
Groundfloor is a diverse, inclusive and inspiring lifestyle club. We’re locating ourselves close to where people live – the new central nodes of our cities. As the redistribution of cities continues, and downtowns continue to hollow out, we’re leaning into the neighborhoods where people now spend the majority of their time, and repurposing existing real estate. Environmentally, we’re excited to be repurposing existing real estate to create our clubs – the days of the wasteful, single use office block are gone and we can’t wait to help accelerate this transition.
We’ve been overwhelmed by early demand and currently have 2,000 people on waitlists from cities around the world. We’re now gearing up to open our first location in San Francisco.
Covid forced us to collectively hit reset on how we interact with other people, our cities and our buildings. The tree has been thoroughly shaken and old assumptions, inequities and misconceptions have been laid bare. The dust has now settled and the demand is clear – people want a place to relax and connect with others. Somewhere welcoming, flexible, beautiful. We’re extremely excited to be meeting this demand.
Co-Founder & CEO