With many firms leaving secondary office space in London and embracing remote working, others have bravely (and quite cleverly) committed to long leases of new offices in the capital. TS has advised Smart (www.smart.co) on the acquisition of a 15-year lease of its first global HQ in Marylebone. The TS team was led by Reetu Chopra (Property) alongside Robert Tunningley (Construction). Reetu Chopra investigates what makes these offices so different and appealing in a post-pandemic market.

The structure of the deal was innovative and complex. It involved the grant of 7 co-terminus leases of each floor (including a common parts lease so that Smart could effectively manage and control the services as sole occupier). The unusual and bespoke nature of the transaction required creative and considered drafting and TS relished the challenge.

Smart’s new offices, at 136 George St, to be named The Smart Building (www.thesmartbuilding.co.uk) form part of a large mixed-use development within the Portman Estate in Marylebone, with practical completion of the wider development due later this year. In a post-pandemic market where many office spaces are empty, having been left behind by a number of corporates amid moves to flexible working, an acquisition like this is significant. The establishment of Smart’s new global HQ provides a huge boost in confidence in the demand for London office space.

So why are big developers like Native Land choosing to construct more London office space now? And why are tech firms like Smart committing to long leases of high-end office space at the tail end of a pandemic that has shown us that the majority of the desk-based working population can, and at least in part, like to do their jobs from home?  

The short answer is that for a young, forward-thinking tech firm like Smart, they saw an opportunity and seized the moment. It is sometimes said that ‘fortune favours the bold’, and in this case Smart’s new building symbolises the boldness that has seen them grow from launch in 2015 to a global fintech company with presence across the globe. We explore more below.

For Smart the acquisition of new office space was vital to its success and growth: it was a big step towards them further strengthening their mark as a global player in the tech space. The HQ will be a used to further enhance their brand and their culture. It will assist them in attracting talent and they believe it will also increase retention. It will create a physical sense of who they are and will facilitate a shared employee experience, particularly important for a team whose success meant the addition of hundreds of new colleagues through the lockdown periods of the last year and a half.

Smart’s vision is to create a spacious working environment to promote collaboration, agility and training with an increased focus on sustainability and well-being. The FT recently reported that there is a market again for high-quality office space that offers a spacious, modern and well-equipped environment. Many believe such premises will attract talented individuals, and especially so in the tech and start-up sectors.

It’s been said many a time over the past year that London is still a critical global hub for business, and Smart know it. A vibrant and dynamic capital that continues to attract fresh energy and creative minds with huge aspirations for a better lifestyle is already showing signs of bouncing back to life and Smart is ahead of the game.

So, how will new style offices work in practice and what is it tenants are looking for? Smart carefully considered a number of factors around offering the best office space in a post-Covid world. Here’s the ticklist:

  • Sustainability – the building is an all-renewable electric building and plays a key role in reducing Smart’s carbon footprint.
  • Location – a site close to green spaces to promote health and well-being.
  • Flexibility - a site close to transport hubs to attract a larger pool of potential workforce, as an easy to access office makes commuting 2 or 3 days a week feasible. 
  • Open space – outdoor areas are on 5 out of 6 floors with a wrap-around terrace on the top floor to create more social space and promote good mental health.
  • Physical set-up – getting the internal layout of the office right so as to create more collaborative spaces as well as amenities for agglomeration.

Businesses need to adapt to new ways of working in the post-Covid market, that’s a given, However, this monumental move by Smart not only restores confidence in the need for London office space but it also revolutionises the way in which offices are used. Reetu and the TS team were delighted to be involved in this acquisition which paves the way for a new era of offices: look out for roof terraces, green space and break out rooms aplenty in new build offices.

Reetu Chopra said “We are delighted to act for Smart on establishing their new global HQ and feel privileged to be a part of their exciting venture. The move is a significant milestone in Smart’s growth and success and a positive step in a post-pandemic market. It is always a pleasure to work with Smart as clients and with whom we have a great history (having previously advised on their former office space). We wish them all the very best at the beginning of this exciting chapter in their new home.”