Antony Slumbers moderated an interactive panel featuring some of the UK’s leading workspace operators. They discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their businesses and touched on re-opening strategies.
- Chris Davies, Managing Director, Uncommon. Offering 90% dedicated space.
- Jonathan Weinbrenn, MD, BEgroup. Managing 1m sq ft. serviced office space in London and the UK.
- Natasha Guerra, CEO, Runway East. Serving high-growth startups.
- Seb Royle, Founder, Platf9rm. A creative business community serving Brighton.
Community is Important
Liz Elam, founder of GCUC Global, opened the webinar with a beacon of hope for coworking operators: to survive is to thrive. The largely global remote working experience forced upon the world by the coronavirus pandemic has “helped people to realise that community is important”. Elam believes that corporations will diversify globally and offer spaces to their employees where they can conduct business and hold meetings closer to their homes.
Antony Slumbers agreed that we will see headquarters distribute their operations across the world instead of concentrated in one two large offices. As companies implement re-opening strategies and bring employees back into the workplace, the differentiator for many won’t be so much about “working from home” as it will be about “working from near home”.
Employees are Essential
Johnathan Weinbrenn – in agreement with all the panellists – highlighted the importance of employee health and well-being. Our current remote working situation validates the long-term value of giving employees choice of where to work. When it comes to offices, he said, “we need better amenities, better infrastructure and better services”. To promote well being, we need to raise our environmental standards and demonstrate those initiatives to customers and prospects.
Natasha Guerra agreed that employees are the centre of a company. The global situation is changing company dynamics and opening the talent pool. Remote working has proven that “you can hire anywhere in the UK or in the world”. She warned, however, that a pending recession will cause companies to think about more cost-effective strategies such as a distributed workforce outside of expensive city centres like London.
The Office: A Strategic Device
Chris Davies, Managing Director of Uncommon, emphasised the requirement for a better office space as people return to workspaces. “The company culture and competitive advantage are why people will want to go back to offices”, he said, while specifying the condition that spaces must promote health and safety.
Occupiers, especially certain corporates, will be hyper focused on building air quality. He predicts we may even see policies in which companies will only take space in buildings that meet an established air quality standard.
Accelerating the Move to Flex
The panellists agreed that today’s coronavirus pandemic will accelerate the move to flexibility that we have been seeing in the market for some time now. Longer-term, it may serve as a tipping point to bring even more corporates into flexible workspaces, as services, agility and flexibility are even more critical components of post-Covid office spaces.
While the needs for businesses of different sizes will be impacted, the service-focused flexible workspace industry is positioned to deliver on occupier requirements. Weinbrenn predicts that those who can afford it will be willing to take less space at higher costs because they see the value in outsourced services, such as cleaning and facilities management.
The traditional market is not untouched. The increased need for flexibility is now mission critical and traditional landlords are even more compelled to react. Some landlords have dabbled in flex-space in the past and realised that it is operationally complex and difficult to get right. As a result, we can expect to see landlords partnering closely with operators via JVs or management agreements or, alternatively, implementing flexibility across their portfolios with studied and dedicated operating models.
Impact on Flex-space Operations
As occupiers return to office environments, operators are contemplating the operational and legal implications of measures that prevent virus spread. For example, temperature checks and mandatory masks may cause concern about privacy versus protection. Government guidance on these points will be critical. Longer-term, measures such as building airflow improvements, contactless elevators and smart access control can help mitigate risks to public health.
When it comes to managing member expectations, the panellists highlighted the importance of transparency. Communicating with your customers is critical during this time. Clarify areas of your messaging and know your customers before they come into your space. Establish your value proposition and how you will deliver on their needs. Seb Royle said, “it’s all about communication with your membership and making them feel comfortable.” Convey confidence in the measures you are taking to ensure their comfort, safety and productivity upon their return to the office.
From a sales perspective, Natasha Guerra encourages focusing on customer retention, stating “it’s six times easier to retain a customer than bring a new one on-board”.
Service Excellence can Differentiate
Service excellence and SLAs are fundamentally important in the flexible workspace industry. Even more so in a post-Covid world. Innovating around your product and offering a better value experience will be important in the coming months. Understanding how consumption dynamics will change for your occupiers will be key to meeting their expectations. Runway East contemplates helping their customers re-imaging their office and service needs in the new world.
The panellists agreed that as pandemic restrictions ease up and the world returns to a new normal, the flex-space sector may just find that the challenges of today are the opportunities of tomorrow.
For the full recording click here.