- Space operators need to prepare for an influx of a new kind of coworking member: the post-pandemic hybrid worker.
- From the A/V set-up to the decor, lighting, and kitchen amenities, operators are gearing up to offer coworking newcomers the best of both worlds: the comforts of the home office and the connectivity and connectedness of the traditional workplace.
- Christophe Garnier, CEO of hybrid work solutions tech company Upflex shares four considerations to ensure your workspace is hybrid-ready.
This article was written by Christophe Garnier, CEO of Upflex.
One by one, massive companies are giving up on the permanent “return to the office.” Just in a one-week span in early October, Amazon told tens of thousands of workers in Washington they are welcome to go hybrid; while Rite Aid did the same for thousands of management-level employees in Pennsylvania. Schneider Electric has established a coworking hub-and-spoke model to give employees more choice and control over where they work.
With these shifts, coworking space operators are starting to see an uptick from a new type of user: the hybrid worker. These flex workers can choose between the comfort of home, the social interactions of the traditional office, and the best-of-both-world amenities of a coworking space.
For space operators, hybrid workers are a new market segment.
But this new opportunity comes with a different set of expectations than the remote-first workers that operators are accustomed to serving. To attract these workers — and to ensure they keep coming back — operators must optimize their spaces for this new world of hybrid work.
Here are four key things operators can do to ensure their spaces rise to the moment.
1. Combine the best of the HQ and the best of the home office
It can’t be said enough: the pandemic’s sudden transition to work from home turned the world of work upside-down. Some people thrived in their new solo workspace among distributed teams. Others — in an effort to escape clutter, family noise, or to make a tiny living space into an emergency office — were driven to set up shop on their beds, or take quiet calls from their cars. Even those with pre-existing home offices may have struggled to escape from the distractions of WFH life and stay focused.
Beyond productivity, many workers missed other aspects of the office, such as daily social interactions with colleagues, the value of face-time with managers, and the amenities of the office. But, they could do without returning to the commute-heavy, static, fluorescent-lit, poorly-ventilated, cubicle-bound workspace they had before.
For instance, your space can be an upgrade to the home office, giving hybrid workers a better office with natural lighting, plants, and engaging art.
It can also offer proximity to other handy services nearby—from post offices to healthcare and gyms, which are often amenities at corporate HQs. Flexibility is also a key selling point of the work-from-home option. So, emphasize your space’s hours and accessibility as tools for workers to take full advantage of workday flexibility.
Your ambiance and accessible conveniences — ergonomic chairs, standing desks, a well-designed, fully equipped kitchen, fresh air, natural light, even great views — may trump even their optimized home-office set-up.
Then, look at how you stand up to the convenience of the traditional office: everything from fast WiFi and state-of-the-art A/V to access to mail services, quietude and privacy, and access to IT help that some office workers may be used to.
Spaces that ride the “resimercial” trend, bridging the best of residential and the commercial, — will become a go-to for these freshly untethered workers as they devise their own custom-tailored “future of work” arrangement.
2. Make room for that much-discussed ‘watercooler conversation’
In the great tug-of-war between traditionally-minded corporations and their talent about the impending and seemingly inevitable “Return to the Office,” spontaneous, casual conversations among on-site employees are said to generate innovation, and these unplanned meetings of the mind are the font from which innovative, revolutionary, differentiating ideas spring.
Unfortunately, business leaders say, these simply cannot occur in a digital space, like Slack or Zoom. These inspiring conversations don’t, however, need to happen in the confines of a corporate HQ’s water cooler. Rather, they can happen in any professional setting where peers interact: team off-sites, happy hours, conferences and summits, and of course, coworking spaces.
In a coworking space, team members can overlap as needed or at will, and they can also meet and mingle with peers from other companies and other industries, fueling this generative chit-chat and spurring fresh perspectives and ideas.
Coworking space operators can be intentional about creating room for this, giving coworking a huge leg up over working from home.
Look at your space and ask: How can I facilitate and foster spontaneous cross-pollination of ideas and inspiration — without harshing the vibe of users who need quiet space to focus?
3. Lead the market with inclusive, capable meeting tech
The huddle room is a handy spot to sequester for off-the-cuff collab sessions, quick, focused brainstorms, and private asides — but increasingly, managers and colleagues alike are grappling with the fact that some participants of the huddle will connect remotely.
Recently, thanks to vaccinations and the re-emergence of in-person work, a remote team member hired during the pandemic had the opportunity to meet some of her colleagues in person for the first time. They all convened at a coworking space in Manhattan. For an impromptu catch-up, they ducked into a huddle room and dialed in another remote team member to join the conversation.
But there was no A/V set-up to enable a video conference, so the team members used a cell phone on speaker to loop in the physically absent participant.
This remote participant was at an unfair advantage. She couldn’t see anyone’s faces, body language, or screens, and they couldn’t see hers. This left the remote colleague at a disadvantage, disconnected from the conversation, and unable to contribute fully.
To ensure equal buy-in across distributed teams, coworking spaces should be leading the way when it comes to hybrid work tech, with cutting-edge video conferencing and collaborative meetings tools. After all, if a hybrid worker constantly feels at a disadvantage to colleagues at HQ, she’ll naturally tend towards spending more time at HQ and less in a coworking space.
This means fewer corporate accounts, which are more consistent sources of revenue for operators beyond members and sporadic drop-ins. Explore user-friendly options for bridging the gap, and you’ll have another great advantage over the home office — while meeting or exceeding tech capabilities of company HQ.
4. Keep security top of mind
Coworking spaces are traditionally seen as creative environments for independent workers, freelancers, and startups. But there’s a whole new opportunity blooming in hybrid work hubs — and that comes with a new set of priorities: We’re not talking about just sole proprietorships, hip boutique agencies, and upstart tech firms anymore.
Big companies around the world — from Facebook to Schneider Electric — are seeking satellite offices (“spokes” to their main hub, if they even keep their main hub at all) more conveniently located for clusters of their employees. Those spokes could overlap with your coworking space — but operators must prove that they can satisfy the strict security requirements of these global enterprises.
This includes everything from maintaining secure networks that prevent hackers from accessing employee computers — concerns that many space operators have never before needed to deeply consider.
To make their space a go-to for hybrid workers, an operator must rise to meet each employer’s IT requirements.
About Christophe Garnier
Christophe Garnier is the chief executive officer of Upflex, a technology company building better, more seamless, more efficient hybrid solutions to enable the future of work. Upflex unites the world’s largest network of coworking space operators in one easily browsable booking platform. Garnier is also a founder of Spark Labs, a coworking space and start-up accelerator near Union Square in Manhattan, NYC.