Collaboration: The key to unlocking potential in a post-Covid environment

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On March 23rd, 2020 the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Telegraph called it the “biggest lockdown of society in British history” [1]. It was a response to a public health emergency, the likes of which the modern world had never seen before but, three years on, Covid concern has quickly dwindled.

In March 2023, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that only 18% of adults in Great Britain reported the coronavirus pandemic as an important issue facing the UK today, having been 25% three months earlier and 29% six months earlier [2].

As the dust settles and new cost-of-living and NHS funding crises emerge from Covid-19’s shadow, we could jump to the hasty conclusion that we’ve shut the door on the Pandemic Era. To do so ignores the far-reaching societal impact of Covid-19. Certainly the British Academy reports that Britain will experience a ‘Covid Decade’ of socio-economic disruption [3]. Yet, amongst that disruption, we have observed the emergence of a stable working pattern.

Having witnessed the rise of hybrid working, we focus on two industries most impacted by evolved working patterns; Public Transport and Serviced Office Providers. What key lessons can we learn from these sectors and how do they relate to the shift towards collaboration within organisations? Certainly industries continue to adapt to ‘new normals’ so, whilst Covid-19 may not be at the forefront of public concern, it's certainly been pivotal in reshaping society as we know it.

Hybrid working: the best of both worlds

The government-mandated lockdown sparked a countrywide mass exodus across offices and ensured the transformation of working patterns overnight. In 2019, 12% of working adults reported working from home at some point during the past week, but this skyrocketed to 46% in April 2020. Initial expectations that workers would flock back with laptops, monitors and office paraphernalia in tow was tested when restrictions began to lift in 2021. Whilst the landscape remained uncertain, there was a discernible appetite to return to the office in some capacity.


In April 2021, 82% of workers who had to work from home due to Covid-19 planned to adopt hybrid working in the future and by Feb 2022 this has risen slightly to 84%. Whilst there was little change in this respect, the preferred hybrid working pattern had shifted considerably towards working mostly from home (up from 30% to 42%) and moved away from on-site working, with less employees intending to work mostly from their usual place of work (down from 25% to 18%), and even less planning to permanently return (down from 11% to 8%). So what does all this data from the ONS tell us [4]? It indicates that, whilst lockdown fatigue initially boosted interest in returning to the office, over time, workers weighed up the benefits of remote working and settled on a happy hybrid medium.

Certainly there has been a fundamental shift in work culture. Workplace phenomena like ‘The Great Resignation’, ‘Quiet Quitting’, and ‘The 4 Day Working Week’ point to a collective revision of priorities and the newfound precedence of a work-life balance. In their State of Hybrid Work 2022: United Kingdom, Owl Labs reported that a lack of flexibility (hours, location and requiring full-time office work) is now the primary reason for refusing a job offer [5].


Moreover, working patterns have stabilised, with 37% of working adults consistently working at home in the past week (Jan ’23 to Mar ’23). So whilst some major corporations like Netflix have made news by forgoing the hybrid model, it’s clear that this model has become entrenched in the fabric of working life for a large part of society. Having been exposed to and already proved the viability of the remote working concept, it’s become impossible to close this Pandora’s Box.

The shift towards collaboration

 Before the world ground to a halt in March 2020, there was already a growing shift recognising the value of collaboration in business; in fact a 2017 study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden, Professor of Global Business at Babson College found that companies that rewarded collaborative working were up to 5.5 times more likely to be high performing [6].

During the pandemic, the necessity to collaborate in order to scale seemingly insurmountable mountains brought the importance of collaboration to the forefront.

The Oxford Character Project presented its UK Business Values Survey in 2022 [7]. Unsurprisingly, 'collaboration' now tops the list of values adopted by UK companies, with almost half referencing it. The ‘lessons of large-scale collaboration during the Covid pandemic’ were cited as driving the prominence of this value. The rise of hybrid working further reinforces this, with employees opting to choose work patterns that better cater for collaboration.

Read the room... the breakout room!

The rising need for defined open areas or meeting rooms for small groups had been established pre- 2020 [8]. However, hybrid working has redefined the purpose of the office and expedited the demand for ‘huddle spaces’. We at Accelerator believe that the appetite to return to the office is mainly driven by the need for social connection and collaboration. Having been thrust into the proverbial ‘deep end’ during the pandemic, it’s become clear that virtual meetings will never be able to completely replace the ‘in person’ alternative.


The difficulty picking up body language cues, the inevitable technical difficulties and virtual meeting fatigue are but a few stumbling blocks. Office providers need to design spaces that can accommodate 1:1’s, small meetings and impromptu social gatherings to offset the downsides of the office commute.


In fact Steelcase, an office architecture and design specialist, is guided by the notion that ‘coming together in the workplace to socialise and collaborate will become the greatest purpose that the new office can fulfil’ [9]. Figures from the Freespace Index showing the decreased popularity of individual office workstations (down 36% in March ’23 vs 2019) and the increased popularity of meetings rooms (up 31%) seem to reinforce this notion [10].

Our own experience with serviced office clients further validates this; in 2022, 24% of serviced office users identified the need for more meeting rooms, more private booths or better collaboration spaces. Embracing the office as a collaboration hub and providing spaces that promote team building and human connection will be vital.

I don't have bandwidth!

Whether it be Teams, Slack, Zoom or Google Meet, there is now a spectrum of choice to support collaboration across businesses. In fact, Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work disclosed that messaging apps are the first-choice method of collaboration for 50% of workers and they have overtaken traditional emailing [11].

During lockdown, this caused challenges for telecoms providers such as CenturyLink who observed significantly increased traffic throughout the day due to collaboration tools [12]. The higher internet usage is compounded by the majority of workers preferring to be on camera (62%) [11], the explosion of work management platforms such as Asana or and the growth of virtual collaboration tools like Miro.


With businesses returning to serviced offices, the telecommunications and infrastructure challenge has moved from the home to the office. Across our serviced office client base, IT is consistently the area rated lowest by their own clients; providers will need to review IT packages and consider extending coverage across shared areas.

Expectations have now changed. If the IT experience is inferior to their home set-up, workers are less forgiving and less inclined to commute to the office. Maintaining awareness of what is now considered ‘standard usage’ is a good first step but proactive communication about the office IT experience is more important now than ever.

That's such a flex!

In 2019, Gensler found that flexible working spaces were increasing in popularity within the corporate UK sector [13]. The nature of short-term contracts, flexibility to upscale or downscale and cost effectiveness had always appealed to start-ups, but pre-pandemic there was a slow swell of interest from larger corporations. During 2020 and 2021, Covid-19 rendered most offices largely unoccupied, but many organisations were locked into lengthy leases that heavily impacted the bottom line, despite offices being unused. Naturally, the advantages of flexible working spaces enticed more organisations post-lockdown; by 2020 Knight Frank reported that 47% of UK businesses intended to incorporate more flexible, serviced or co-working spaces in their strategies


Whilst hybrid working has broadly become the ‘go-to’ working pattern for many organisations, there isn’t a unified definition of ‘hybrid working’ from business to business. Google has championed its flexible work model which sees employees commuting to the office on three “collaboration days’ a week. Amazon initially announced that employees would return on a full-time basis, then promoted a hybrid scheme allowing for two work-from-home days, before changing tact and declaring complete individual flexibility. This February, the policy was reversed back to the earlier hybrid option.

From March, Disney staff were offered less flexibility and are expected to work from the office from Monday to Thursday. Evidently organisations are still ironing out and testing working patterns to find the best solution. The enhanced versatility offered by flexible serviced offices allows breathing room to easily trial different approaches and access additional ‘pay as you go’ collaborative spaces without the upfront cost.

This perhaps explains why providers like Landmark posted higher than national average occupancy rates in March 2022 [15], and Orega advertised that occupancy quickly went back to high pre- pandemic levels once the lockdown restrictions were lifted [16]. We feel that providers who best cater for collaboration and offer flexibility will continue to emerge victorious.

That's the ticket... the flexible ticket!


The range and suitability of public transport ticketing options was already being questioned pre- lockdown, with decreasing sales of season train tickets perhaps the first nail in the coffin. Certainly 2019 data from the Office for Rail and Road demonstrated that the number of journeys using season tickets had fallen by 17% between 2017 and 2019. Rail executives correlated the declining season ticket sales to increasing flexible working patterns and experts called for ticketing overhauls to better reflect this shift [17]

Of course, the outbreak of Covid kicked this up several notches but, three years on, season tickets have not recovered from the Covid blow. During October ’22 to December ’22, ORR data indicated that passenger journeys had steadily risen back to 80% of the number of journeys in the same quarter three years earlier, whereas journeys using season tickets were only at 35% [18].

The introduction of flexible season tickets was announced by the Department for Transport in 2021 as a response to changed working patterns, but it has been received with a somewhat lukewarm reception. Certain routes benefitting from greater discounts, the scheme favouring off-peak travellers and it often suiting those travelling two days per week rather than three days, are grounds for its mixed reception. In August 2021, Transport Focus surveyed rail commuters to gain insights on how flexi tickets were received. 10% of rail commuters expected to use the flexi season ticket in the future, whilst Anytime tickets leapfrogged into becoming the preferred method [19].

The initial lack of enthusiasm translated into 2022’s fourth quarter where only 54 million journeys were made using season tickets; as previously mentioned, this is only 35% of the journeys made in the same period three years earlier. This figure included flexi-season tickets, thus suggesting the current flexible ticketing offering is not offsetting the challenges of the changed work pattern. In light of this, our clients in the transport sector are using our services to assess how their passengers perceive flexi tickets and how they can better cater to passengers' needs. In order to navigate through the changing face of collaboration and working patterns, transport providers will need to be proactive and regularly temperature check wider workforce trends to ensure that passenger usage continues to rise to pre-pandemic levels.

Public and private sector collaboration

From our research, collaboration and relationship ratings from public transport stakeholders were at their peak during the pandemic; clearly public transport providers did an excellent job of becoming more collaborative to tackle the challenging environment.

Since then, ratings have largely dropped off and, in some cases, even dipped below pre-pandemic levels. Stakeholders have seen how collaborative operators can be and appear to expect similar levels going forward. Indeed, keeping up the collaborative momentum benefits everyone; the Campaign for Better Transport recently featured Nottingham as an example where collaborative efforts amongst the council, transport operators and businesses have been able to boost business whilst reducing congestion growth by 47% [20].

Working alongside businesses and councils to promote schemes like the recently extended £2 bus fare cap, is a good first step. Stakeholders are often eager to promote public transport initiatives on their own social media and within marketing campaigns; it helps increase footfall for local businesses and connects local communities for the council. Considering how to better engage with local businesses and councils will be the long-term challenge for public transport providers.

Getting the green light

Through the lens of sustainability, the International Institute for Sustainable Development found a ‘Covid Silver Lining’ - transport emissions fell by 20% in 2020 [21]. However, this short-term reduction caused concern about the long-term impact on sustainability goals. In fact, ING reported on the slowing growth of Europe’s electrification of public buses in November 2020; notably the UK registered 30% fewer new buses than the previous year [22], directly impacting the electrification of the fleet. Certainly, by the end of 2020, the reduction in passenger numbers affected investment in eco-friendly transport, meaning instead we were losing steam on the sustainability agenda.

The announcement of the government’s ‘Decarbonising Transport Plan’ in 2021, under which the ZEBRA scheme offered funding to help local transport authorities roll-out zero-emission buses and infrastructure, reversed this train of thought. In fact, since then, up to £269 million has been awarded and several bus operators have pledged to only buy ultra-low or zero-emission buses from 2025. Whilst the green revolution is gaining traction, low passenger numbers still present an enormous threat to the industry; in fact Arriva recently pulled out of the ZEBRA scheme for Stevenage, due to reduced customer demand and a hampered recovery from the pandemic.

In order to attract passengers back to the buses, it’s important to celebrate the progress towards sustainability goals and promote the green message. We’ve found that many stakeholders are unaware of the environmental headway made by bus service operators. The transport industry should capitalise on the collaborative wave that has swept the nation. Partnering with schools and education institutions to position buses as the sustainable way forward will inspire a permanent modal shift in the next generation.


About the author

As a 2016 International Relations graduate from the University of Birmingham, Torina Kaur Leihal first led customer insights and employee engagement programmes within the B2B manufacturing sector. Having joined Accelerator as a Research Analyst, Torina has been involved in both public transport and flexible office projects - invaluable experience that has provided a key foundation for this paper.




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