London has to adapt to be a viable base for the businesses of tomorrow

Ben Reed, head of brand engagement at The Silvertown Partnership, focuses on some of the big challenges ahead for businesses in London

Every business, big or small, has similar priorities in this digital age: they need to attract and retain talent, continue to innovate to maintain their edge and promote themselves to their customers. London’s renown as a centre for both established big business and exciting new start-ups means that, historically, it has been the place to base your business in order to tick all these boxes.

Yet reading the news pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were major problems ahead for the city. New data shows there’s been a seven per cent increase in the number of under-40s leaving London in the last 12 months – signalling potential problems ahead for businesses looking to recruit and retain millennial workers.

High prices are also forcing more and more start-ups further out of the city, meaning there are fewer opportunities to bump into the emerging movers and shakers and be a part of that energetic and innovative start-up culture London is known for. Lastly, as businesses look to create exciting experiences to drive customer engagement, there is a huge problem from lack of suitable space – spiralling rents, old infrastructure and lack of flexibility mean businesses are feeling the physical constraints too.

It’s true, London is a wonderful historic city, but it wasn’t designed for the 21st century. So, what needs to change in order for London to remain a viable base for the businesses of tomorrow?

Firstly, businesses need to create the kind of environments people want to work in. Exciting and stimulating workplaces will appeal to millennial workers – so businesses must think innovatively about how they approach the work environment, and instead of separating work, blend it with their employees’ life and play worlds too. That might mean communal ‘hackable’ workspaces where employees can network with other businesses and even the public while they work, greater flexibility such as working from home and a bigger emphasis on wellbeing. We’re already seeing offices where you can cycle to your desk, so the future workspace should be an interesting and stimulating environment.

Spatially, the city also needs to better accommodate the needs of both the largest multi-nationals and the smallest local start-ups, and bring them together to learn from and feed off each other. Creating a culture where like-minded businesses stimulate creativity and innovation from being in close proximity to one another – often in the same building – is something London must strive for and a founding thought behind our approach to Silvertown.

Lastly, we need to create spaces where businesses can bring down the walls that have traditionally separated them from their customers. That means both digitally, with things like open source transforming the way many modern businesses operate, but also physically. A great example of this is National Australia Bank’s HQ in Melbourne, which has created a so-called ‘permeable’ work space with its ground floor space that is open to employees, customers and the general public to work, hold events, grab a coffee and network and does a great job of attracting innovators.

As a city, London must provide the spaces and infrastructure to enable these new ways of working if it is to continue to compete at a global level.