6 Ways The Pandemic Is Impacting Flexible Space

A recent virtual roundtable provided a bird’s eye view of the current situation and its impact on flexible workspace.
  • A recent virtual roundtable provided a bird’s eye view of the current situation and its impact on flexible workspace.
  • The panel featured specialists from flexible space and technology, who discussed current trends and workplace demand.
  • A key takeaway is that operators must demonstrate what they’re doing to keep people safe, as this will give members confidence to return to their workplace.

The flexible space market is evolving, fast. What is driving demand for flexible space during the current situation? What are people asking for? And how can operators meet those requirements while providing a positive, productive workplace experience?

These questions, and many more, were raised during a recent webinar hosted by essensys, which brought together a panel of flexible space and technology experts for a virtual roundtable discussion.

The panel was moderated by essensys’ Amanda Fanoun and included:

Here are 6 highlights from the virtual event.

Access the full webinar recording, here

A need for human interaction is bringing people back (at a safe distance).

Startway’s Sophie Bianciotto is seeing a realisation among members that, while remote work is feasible, it’s not a complete solution. “There is a drive to come back to the workplace, to try to drive something together and rebuild the company culture.”

This past year has shown companies that remote and flexible work is beneficial in some respects, as it reduces time spent commuting and enables people to work closer to home. According to Bianciotto, any previous reluctance from employers to allow flexible work has been “unlocked”, which is now triggering new long-term flexible working policies that in many cases, includes third place options such as coworking and flexible workspaces.

The right tech gives people confidence to use your space.

Andrew Redpath from Kiln notes that technology can help bring new clients into a space or encourage people back. He’s observing this trend first-hand and is currently seeing 8-10% month on month growth in usage as a consequence, noting that “the tech component has been paramount in getting people back into the space.”

Which technologies, specifically? “We’ve implemented ionisation technology for HVAC systems, touchless engagement with internal physical structures, bluetooth access, and touchless food and beverage dispensers, to name a few.”

Redpath went beyond the “low hanging fruit” of cleaning and sanitiser stations and invested in these technologies to demonstrate to members that the space is safe to use, and while it required a significant investment, he believes the payback in terms of new business and member retention justifies the extra investment.

Similarly, essensys’ Andrew Debenham has noticed a significant surge in demand for touchfree tech, which is “helping people come back to the workplace” by giving them confidence that their space is well-managed and safe to use.

It’s important to show people what you’re doing to create a safe space.

“As people do come back, it needs to be frictionless,” said GCUC’s Liz Elam. “It needs to be more transactional. It’s up to you as an operator to make people feel safe.”

Operators should show people what they’re doing to create a safe space, such as regular cleaning, taped-off areas, signage, sanitiser stations and so on. But there’s a fine line.

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“Don’t make them scared – go easy on the caution tape!”

Redpath added, “It’s the psychology around it. It’s about leading people through the journey, showing them that we’re thinking about our community and keeping everyone safe. That’s a really important part of the narrative.”

For Bianciotto, this is amplified by regular, friendly communications.

“I agree that people need to see cleaning stations, they need to see what is being done, but it always comes back to human connection.

“Our staff at Startway has been really involved in communicating with members, making sure everyone feels safe and answering their questions. They love having a tool to book an office, but they also love being able to talk and communicate with our staff.”

Corporates want a hybrid workplace model.

Redpath has noticed a distinct shift in the type of companies enquiring about space.

“We’re seeing larger enterprise level clients, with anything from 50 to 200 members, who are looking to consume space differently. They’ve got some distributed workforce at home, and they want a physical space as well.”

Many companies are now thinking about remote work long-term, and are looking for flexible space options, including regional locations as part of a hub and spoke model, to accommodate staff for part of the working week. When they’re not in the coworking space or in the company’s main HQ, staff will be based at home.

This offers a significant opportunity for coworking and flexible space operators. However, this opportunity comes with a sizable caveat: their tech infrastructure must be up to the task.

“Flex space has been becoming more mainstream and more attractive to big corporates,” added Debenham. “We’ve seen a massive uptick, especially over the last 3 years, of occupiers asking our customers [workspace operators] about security, resilience, and how they handle data.”

Operators need to be able to answer these questions and demonstrate that they have a watertight system in place before corporate clients will even consider their space.

People want normality, but are influenced by local COVID-19 policies.

Elam noted that “we’re all having different experiences based on our different regions and what Covid is doing at the time,” referring to regional ‘spikes’ and the associated restrictions in those areas.

This heavily influences demand for space, as some areas with lower cases are likely to see a more confident return to work, while other areas – such as those that are now heading back into a stricter lockdown – are seeing dampened demand while prospective clients are stuck at home and unable to tour workspaces.

Despite that, there is a “general drive to flex during these times of uncertainty”, according to Redpath, coupled with “an underlying desire to get back to some sort of normality.”

Smaller, private spaces are in demand.

One particular trend that Bianciotto has noticed is that both existing and prospective members want smaller meeting spaces, and more of them.

“This has been requested a lot,” she noted. In addition, many companies are eager to have a network of ‘third spaces’ in multiple locations, which gives people the option to work in an alternative workplace that’s not their home.

This ties into a greater need for people to reignite human workplace connections that they can’t get at home. “We are all human, we all need connection, and we’ve all experienced a lot of issues with this work from home experiment.”

She added that coworking has the opportunity to solve this human disconnect by fulfilling rising demand for hub and spoke workplace models, and allowing people to work near home rather than at home. “Workers finally have a choice over where they work.”

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