For some time, proactive and forward-thinking organisations have been listening to the younger talent in their business to drive their real estate strategy – and what they are hearing is that people want a degree of flexibility.
The adoption of flexible workspace by office occupiers shows no signs of abating across the UK. In fact, COVID and the use of technology has accelerated this activity with flexible workspace operators now seeking expansion opportunities, due to increased demand from a more diverse range of occupiers attracted to the benefits of flexible workspace.
In addition, following the latest Government announcement by PM Boris Johnson to scrap all COVID curbs, the agile working framework that has been adopted by many companies over the past couple of years will be even more on the radar and more firms may start thinking about adapting some of their long-term workspace assets.
What is flex space and who is using it?
In the literal term, a flexible office enables occupiers to be more agile however, this is not the sole reason. From the outset, flexible workspace operators design their space with their customers in mind, offering various areas to sit, work, network, socialise and host events. This helps to boost team collaboration, productivity, enhance office morale and attract/retain talent.
Flexible offices have often, incorrectly, had a reputation of only being suitable for smaller teams, typically utilised by start-ups and SMEs. However, the pandemic has certainly made this type of setting a smart enterprise solution for many large operators too. For example, in Manchester, Deloitte occupies 35,000 sq ft in WeWork, Hanover Building. NOMA and HSBC resides in 10,000 sq ft at Hana, Landmark, St Peters Square. In Birmingham, Goldman Sachs is utilising flex-space for more than 200 employees at WeWork’s 55 Colmore Row. The sector has much broader appeal than the historical consultancy, tech, digital and creatives, who were the majority users of this space. The optionality, agility, simplicity, and variety of facilities is an attractive and cost-effective real estate solution to attract, retain, and motivate talent.
In the capital, ex-WeWork boss Wybo Wijnbergen has just this month launched InfinitSpace at Aldgate Tower, a building owned by Brookfield Properties. This firm enables brands to rent white label workplace space in their building on a flexible basis via an app on an hourly basis regardless of whether they are tenants or not. From a landlord perspective, it can be rolled out across as many buildings as required.
Furthermore, brands such as UpFlex and Desana are already helping to connect companies to global flexible workspaces enabling companies to be cost efficient from a space perspective and employees to be productive.
Who benefits from a flex setup?
Flexible offices enable occupiers to pick up their belongings and move seamlessly into a ready to work environment, which can be increased or reduced in size with additional desks and fit out depending on a businesses’ requirements. With changing work patterns and hybrid working, there are increasing challenges of how to provide sufficient space for everyone. Flexible solutions allow companies access to collaboration, meeting and work lounges to address peaks in occupancy.
For some businesses, flexible work environments provide businesses with the ability to enter into all-inclusive shorter-term commitments with fixed monthly outgoings which enables them to budget, forecast easier and adapt according to the ever-changing market and the new ways of working.
The hybrid model
During the past 12 months, we have noticed that those properties which provide both conventional and flexible office space are proving increasingly attractive to occupiers.
This enables companies to have a central core base whilst also having the option to add or remove deskspace as and where required.
In addition, the traditional office provides a company with complete control over their environment and bespoke fit out, enabling the business to ensure that the space fully encapsulates their brand messaging, identity, values and corporate culture.
So what will the office of the future look like? Well, the hub will always have a place, but we will start to see this space reallocated, redesigned, and presented to employees in a different way: a central hub complemented by a myriad of flexible working options to appeal to a diverse workforce.
Only time will tell how business and real estate strategy will evolve post-pandemic, but it’s clear that flex is in a good place to re-emerge in a strong position, with occupancy levels on the increase over the last few months.
One thing is for sure, it is the proactive landlords and occupiers who take the time to truly listen and understand the needs of their workforce and put in place a measured and responsive strategy for their real estate portfolio, who will thrive. Having the flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your business and to continue to attract young talent is what will drive business forward.
Is the office flexing its ability to change the workplace indefinitely? It’s far from a one-size fits all solution and flexible offices won’t be the right move for every business case. However, there is certainly an argument to be made that flexible space is leading many companies to re-assess their real estate portfolios and seek out alternative solutions.
This article was first published in CoStar on 28 January, 2022.
About the author
Patrick Kennedy, is our head of Flexible Workspace in the regions. He advises landlords, occupiers and operators within the sector and has worked with clients including Deloitte, PGIM and Barings.
To contact Patrick email, Patrick.Kennedy@colliers.com