Zoom's new London hub – where 'remote work' meets 'we need you back in the office'

Collaboration, cohesion, and irony all under one roof

Zoom is underscoring its mandated return to the physical workplace by opening a London "engagement hub" that it reckons will cater for the needs of hybrid, office and remote workers.

The poster child for the work-from-home revolution that sprang up during the pandemic surprised onlookers recently by confirming it'll require employees living within 50 miles of an office to come in two days a week.

Some took this to mean the remote working trend is moribund yet Zoom is trying to put a fresh spin on it: the 15,000 sq ft site in Holborn is billed as a "multi-use cohesive hub" designed to provide a "collaborative space".

This will be divided into "zones" and include 75 "work points" that range from "library-style benches, touchdown spaces, agile tables for collaboration to traditional desks." Staff need to book them via a workspace reservation tool.

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The Hub comes with "creative furniture" – presumably modern designs rather than unusual shaped seats and desks – community areas, formal gathering spaces, and quiet corners.

As readers might expect, each area is kitted with Zoom Rooms tech and digital signage to squeeze "collaboration and customization into any space". This apparently makes meetings frictionless, and who doesn't want less friction in their lives?

The Zoom Virtual Kiosk allows "in-office" roles such as receptionists to manage the office when remote, "greeting guests and handling administrative tasks, empowering everyone to do their best work from anywhere."

If all this sounds like Zoom is trying too hard, maybe that's because employers' attitudes to remote working have hardened in the past 12 months, not least in the tech industry where a swathe of big businesses like Meta, Dell, Google, Salesforce, and more are calling on their staff to return to work in person for two to three days a week.

Zoom's central London site was announced in March last year when it expected headcount and revenues to keep growing. Since then, revenue growth has slowed from three-digit percentage rises to low single digits, and Zoom confirmed earlier this year it was ditching 15 percent of the workforce.

"The return to (at least hybrid) work seen in organisations across the world has affected Zoom's numbers, with less demand for its once-ubiquitous services," said TechMarketView analyst Crain Wentworth this week.

He pointed out that Microsoft Teams and others have "chipped away" at Zoom's business – net profit was slumping relative to the highs seen in recent times. And the share price has fallen from a pandemic peak of $559 in October 2020 to $69 at the start of this week.

"Remote working isn't dead (long live the hybrid!), but poster child Zoom's admission that even it wants its own people back at their desks for at least part of the week isn't the greatest vote of confidence in remote collaboration technologies' ability alone to keep dispersed teams connected and working efficiently," said Wentworth. "Productivity isn't just about products, it takes investment in policy, practice, and people too."

Zoom's UK boss, Phil Perry, said it "totally reimagined our London office for the modern, digitally connected age."

Let's see if the employees agree. ®

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