Blog

The Drive to Flex and the Return to the Office

By Amanda Fanoun
15.10.20 ·

Part of the ‘Building a Compelling Space Proposition’ seriesYou can find the first post of this series here.

essensys and GCUC brought together a panel of flex space operators and experts to discuss what comprises a compelling space proposition in today’s evolving office market.

The panel featured:

  • Liz Elam, Founder and Executive Director of GCUC, the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, a global organization that brings together the coworking and flex-space communities via a series of annual events.
  • Sophie Bianciotto, Commercial Director of Startway, a France-based operator with over 30 locations, focused on delivering flexible solutions to SMEs and large corporate groups.
  • Andrew Redpath, COO and Co-Founder of Kiln Coworking, a US-based flex office operator focused on building early-stage tech ecosystems that facilitate access to insight, capital, and talent. Kiln has 5 locations across Utah and Colorado.
  • Andrew Debenham, VP Sales, Europe at essensys, the leading global provider of flexible workspace technology and software solutions for space providers.

Attitudes towards Covid and new regulations have impacted how people consume space and interact in society. There is an underlying drive to get back to normal. The speakers offered perspectives on the market and revealed best practices around supporting tenant requirements and building confidence as workers return to the office.

Here are the key takeaways from the webinar:

Work has become humanized

The work from home experience has been positive for some and touch-and-go for others. For some, it grants a degree of flexibility and availability to meet family and childcare needs. For others, it has resulted in loneliness and isolation. The human side of work has become blatantly visible because of the pandemic. The silver lining is workers’ new claim to choose where they work.

This gives space providers a lot to think about. People are returning to the office for culture, human connection, and collaboration, among other reasons. Building a culturally welcoming space that makes occupiers feel safe and confident is critical – almost more critical for those workers who continue to work from home. Communicating frequently to them about the measures you’re taking to ensure health and safety within the space can help nudge them back to the office. The panelists stressed the importance of understanding the journey and leading your customers through it with a consistent narrative.

Evolve your service offering

Consumption of space has changed. There’s a requirement for de-densified areas and social distancing that must be evident to your occupiers. Track how people are using the space over time and evolve your service offering to adapt to those needs. Sophie Bianciotto explained that across Startway locations, there is greater demand for smaller meeting spaces and third spaces – those away from both HQ and home locations. They are enabling members to change their settings depending on what they need at any given time.

The community and events component of the office has taken a hit. Programming and social interaction continue to be essential to occupiers. Keeping members connected with virtual events can help boost morale. At Kiln, Andrew Redpath and his team offer business services to occupiers that may be struggling as a result of the pandemic.

Technology is paramount

As people go back to the office, the experience has to be frictionless. Providers are scrambling to understand how to digitize physical assets such as door access, services, and other space components. The technology already exists; occupier demand is now driving space providers to implement it.

Andrew Redpath discussed the possibility of installing ionization technology to help eradicate virus particles within the air. While it is a significant investment, it pays back over time and with scale. It is a proven technology that benefits tenants throughout the building, which offers landlords an incentive to take a stake in the installation.

As demand for flex-space increases, operators are receiving more enquiries from 50 to 200 employee companies looking to consume space differently. They want a mix of HQ and distributed working locations. The tech component for meeting the service needs of SMEs and enterprise occupiers is complex without the infrastructure in place to deliver reliable services quickly and efficiently. As the drive to flex accelerates, technology is paramount in the tenants’ decision-making process.

Tune in

Building a Compelling Flex Space Proposition

Market dynamics are changing

As-a-service models have become the new consumption demand pattern across all verticals, fundamentally transforming how people consume services. The real estate market is not immune. It has lagged behind in the past, but the time is now to enable agility and flexibility. Workers want easier ways to find and access space with as few touchpoints as possible. Some landlords struggle to wrap their heads around how to deliver flexibility and make their space offering more transactional. The dialogue between landlords and operators has changed. Management agreements and joint ventures with an overlayed operating model are becoming the norm.

The shift from leases to license agreements, long-term to short-term, and shared amenities is driving the evolution of the real estate market. The focus turns yet again on technology. Landlords are identifying systems, tools, and infrastructure that unlock flexibility and enable transactional flexibility across their business. Although skeptical in previous years, the commercial real estate community sees the value in flexible office models as enterprise customers are staying longer than anticipated on shorter-term lease agreements.

Requirements are evolving

As corporate occupiers continue to drive demand for flexible office products, space providers are settling into a new reality of service requirements. Yet again, it comes back to tech. An enterprise tenant generally comes with a checklist of technology needs and questions about data handling and protection, network management, and compliance standards. Proving best practices and demonstrating that your infrastructure meets HIPPA and FINREG regulations can help attract and retain customers.

Security and resilience are critical, too. Network infrastructure that is resilient and can offer protection, privacy, and control for individual companies and users is essential. While these are table stakes for enterprise customers, the panelists suggested companies of all sizes are starting to demand a higher security level. You must be able to satisfy these conditions and prove best practices to ensure you’re not missing out on any market segment.

Tune in to the full conversation here.

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