- The GWA’s annual conference covered topics ranging from the current pandemic to the impacts and opportunities for the industry with a redistributed workforce.
- During the event, experts argued how the work from anywhere trend will affect enterprise portfolios and how flexspace providers can respond.
- The demand for increased flexibility will require a shift in how buildings are developed and upgraded, according to the panelists.
The Global Workspace Association, held its annual conference virtually this year with a focus on the future of the flexible workspace industry. On December 8th and 9th, industry leaders from around the globe offered their insights on topics covering everything from navigating the current pandemic to the impacts and opportunities for the industry with a redistributed workforce.
In a panel discussion titled, “THE Defining Term of the Future: Work From Anywhere”, speakers provided their perspectives on how the work from anywhere trend will affect enterprise portfolios and how flexspace providers can respond.
Moderated by Jonathan Wright, who leads the Flexible Workspace Consulting team for Asia Pacific at Colliers, the panel featured speakers representing Singapore and the United States markets. Corrine Toh, the Head of Leasing and Enterprise Solutions at CapitaLand, addressed the Work From Anywhere (WFA) trend in Singapore while Jamie Hodari, the CEO of Industrious, provided his insights on the US.
What does Work From Anywhere mean?
A lot of workplace discussions this year have focused on Working From Home (WFH). In response to that has risen another phrase, Work From Anywhere (WFA).
“People tended to work from the office, now they are realizing they can work from non-traditional locations & not just THE office”, Toh said. Working from anywhere, she described, means working from the office, working near home, or working from a third space such as a coworking space or café in a retail mall. It is also about putting more choice in the hands of employees by providing them the flexibility to work from the office, home, or elsewhere, as needed.
How is WFA being embraced by workspace providers?
Similar to how the pandemic has hastened a rise in working from home, it has also accelerated real estate strategies around working from anywhere.
Toh described how there was already an increasing demand for flex space and coworking in Singapore before the pandemic and that landlords have been embracing changes in their real estate footprint based on this demand.
“It’s all about providing flexibility. It’s a value add for our tenants,” she said. Specifically, she outlined three themes her company has used in their WFA strategy:
- A Co-Flex Plan – they see coworking providers as partners, not competitors
- The Ecosystem – providing the ability for tenants to connect into a larger B2B ecosystem beyond their own corporate real estate
- Flexibility to Scale – they are using the diversity in their geographic footprint within their portfolio to allow tenants to scale up and down as needed
In the United States on the other hand, due to the current high rate of COVID spread, what is being done now versus in anticipation of the future after the pandemic is somewhat different than in Singapore, where there is no current community spread of the virus.
Hodari discussed the increase in demand for private offices versus open floor plans and how Industrious is working with companies to provide safe private office options.
How much flexibility is realistic with WFA?
In meeting the demand for increased flexibility for workers, there are a number of challenges that companies and workspace providers must face.
Companies that are looking to establish satellite offices and permanent work from home options are now trying to determine what the traditional HQ space should be used for.
With a WFA plan, what happens at HQ?
Whether it is used for team collaboration, for meetings, or even just for fun and building company culture, and what that means for both the size and operations of an HQ are yet to be determined.
For landlords, the operational realities of meeting multiple requests for flexibility will pose a challenge moving forward. Companies are looking to purchase workplace experiences for their employees the same way they would purchase a product.
Workplace models will need to respond to the variability in occupancy on a day to day basis if WFA becomes the norm. But as Hodari pointed out, delivering a real estate product with this type of pricing model is challenging, and will be even harder to value from a financing perspective. Still, he said that the demand is there and that their product Oasis, which strives to solve this problem, is their fastest growing product.
Using technology and amenities to upgrade a building’s “software”
Toh emphasized that technology can be used to facilitate the WFA philosophy by enhancing transparency around booking shared amenities and allowing people to choose how and where to spend their day depending on the type of work they need to do.
The demand for increased flexibility will also require a shift in how buildings are developed and upgraded, according to the panelists. One of the great promises of technology, Hodari asserted, is that it can be updated frequently, thus removing some pressure on updating other assets in a building.
With how long it takes to develop and construct a physical building, landlords are encouraged to focus on upgrading the “software” of the building by enhancing facilities with technology and adding amenities, while the hardware, the building’s physical assets, can remain largely the same.
On the need for collaboration
The flexible workspace industry is still relatively young. In the discussion, it was noted by Jamie Hodari that as industries mature, they trend towards transparency and data sharing among competitors. Both the airline and hotel industries are good examples of this evolution. However, in the workplace world, although the small and independent operators are very collaborative with one another, the larger players in the industry are not very transparent.
Both panelists agreed that the transition to a work from anywhere culture is a good thing for the future of work and that occupiers and landlords need to continue to engage in these conversations to understand the changing demand so they can collaboratively plan and deliver solutions.
“This is, in the end, driven by a democratization of real estate, empowering employees,” Hodari said. “[It’s] changing from what the CEO wants to what the employees need. I hope this picks up steam.”