Social innovators look to return to office and those ‘water cooler’ moments - Claire Carpenter

It’s now been an entire year of working from home, whether from a make-shift office in a spare bedroom or perched at the kitchen table. But for many, there’s an overwhelming desire to get back to our offices and meet with colleagues as soon as it is safe to do so.

Claire Carpenter, founder and CEO of The Melting Pot
Claire Carpenter, founder and CEO of The Melting Pot

Remote working has been a double-edged sword with increased flexibility and freedom resulting in missed opportunities for collaboration and, most insidiously, the risk of isolation - all of which have an impact on motivation.

As Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation, The Melting Pot was one of the first co-working spaces to open its doors in Europe. We have built places for people to work, meet, learn and connect, and have been at the forefront of the co-working movement for nearly two decades. The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated changes in our working habits, yet, while a shift was on the horizon, it was expected to take years, not weeks.

Office space is evolving, and in the future, it will be more focused on space for community, collaboration, and innovation. Over the last year, we have conducted extensive research to help drive our strategy post-pandemic, to understand how some of these changes have impacted Scotland’s social innovators who use our space. We needed to understand what people need now and how we can help to meet those requirements.

The results only highlighted the importance of the office, with more than 80 per cent of our members looking forward to a return to The Melting Pot’s facilities. Overwhelmingly, those we interviewed said the office still has a strong influence on well-being, productivity and job satisfaction, with so-called ‘water cooler’ moments helping to spark creativity and build relationships.

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In addition to our research, I joined Social Investment Scotland’s Ambitions for Recovery programme alongside a group of like-minded social entrepreneurs to tackle some of the challenges created by the pandemic. The programme helped us to refine our approach to building back better, and identify opportunities that might come from a new normal.

As we look towards life after lockdown, there is an opportunity to use workplace infrastructure as a tool to drive economic and social recovery, with co-working at its core. Coupled with that, is the importance of purpose-driven organisations and brands led by social innovators who seek to make a real difference in the community. The people leading this work must be supported, and the provision of appropriate people or community-orientated workspace will be a key part of that.

That’s why we’re moving to a new home in Edinburgh’s city centre, and doubling our capacity with a new co-working space. It’s in collaboration with Foundation Scotland on Calton Road – in what used to be the Venue nightclub. Covid-permitting, we’ll open the doors to our 200-plus members in May, providing charities, social enterprises and individuals with the type of flexible, hybrid workspace they need to help Scotland to recover from the current crisis.

Our aim is to give people the right tools and offer the ideal environment to inspire creativity and collaboration – elements which have been lost among a remote workforce. The key roles of the office may have changed forever. The pandemic has only highlighted the importance of spaces with multi-functional and flexible design that enable a variety of working environments, fit for the future of ‘office work’. This will be a requirement across all sectors, but particularly for social innovators who thrive on collaborative energy to drive change and make a meaningful impact.

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For more information about joining The Melting Pot, visit: www.themeltingpotedinburgh.org.uk

Claire Carpenter, founder and CEO of The Melting Pot

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