How flex is leading the way in diversifying the workplace

As the successful offices of tomorrow must accommodate today’s increasingly digital-native, eco-conscious and wellbeing-focused workforce, it’s clear that flexibility will be the lifeblood flowing through the future workplace.

The beating heart of any healthy organisation is its people. Therefore, attracting and retaining top talent is paramount for business leaders in 2020 and beyond. To triumph in the raging war for talent, it is essential to tool up with flexible and diversified workspaces that enable greater collaboration and, in turn, innovation as well as a variety of appealing services, amenities and experiences.

Consider that tech-savvy millennials and the slightly younger Generation Z make up 60 per cent of the global workforce, according to ManPower Group. Device-wielding millennials, aged between 24 and 39, have already revolutionised the way we all work, with the conventional nine-to-five day now extinct in most industries and remote working increasingly the norm.

Creating optimal working experiences is now a must, not an optional extra

Similarly, they have catalysed an evolution towards more flexible workspaces that serve purpose-led brands. Variety in space styles and designs within buildings, to suit different types of work and working, is becoming vital for businesses of all sizes.

“People want to enjoy their lives while they work, and seek flexibility, mobility and variety in their jobs,” says Olly Olsen, co-founder and co-chief executive of The Office Group (TOG). “Creating optimal working experiences is now a must, not an optional extra. Employers will be amazed by how much happier, more loyal and engaged staff will be if they are granted greater freedom and flexibility, and the strict rules of engagement around where and when people work are removed.”

TOG stats

Corporate Proposition, a research paper launched in January by TOG, UnWork and WORKTECH Academy, highlights that as Generation Z and the tail-end of the millennials enter the workplace, employee expectations will start to revolve around the agency to control the immediate environment.

Consumerisation is now deeply ingrained in our personal lives. Social networks market products based on predicted need through our search history, for instance, and Amazon offers same-day delivery on a vast range of different products. Delivering immediacy and adaptability to suit customer needs is bleeding into workplace design, too.

TOG embraces people-led design, knowing that in the digital age all businesses and their needs differ and evolve. “It’s critical to gain an understanding of who the audience is that will work from the building and to respond accordingly with our design,” says Charlie Green, TOG co-founder and co-chief executive.

“We design all our buildings individually, driven by the differing architecture of each building and its unique location. We feel strongly that if we approach the design in that way, we’re respecting the context of each building.”

Power to the tenants

Tenants will have greater power in the future workplace, which will focus on holistic experience, building connected ecosystems and encouraging cross-pollination. Notably, Europe’s workers only spend around 66 per cent of their working time at their desk, according to Savills’ What Workers Want survey. Consequently, office providers must ensure their workplace offers breakout spaces, high-quality catering areas and other services generally associated with the hospitality sector.

Little wonder new models in the flexible workspace market are emerging. Co-working and serviced offices have experienced an incredible surge in recent years, thanks to a growing realisation by progressive corporate organisations that flex spaces should be included in their overall space portfolio.

Business leaders have realised that dialling up co-working capabilities helps future-proofing efforts, partly because of the manifold benefits of flexibility, which engender diversity and community, two key pillars for the modern workplace.

Increasingly, major corporates view flex office spaces, or more specifically satellite or project spaces, as an attractive alternative to house groups of staff with specific needs without needing to maintain their own office areas.

As an example, Ocado approached TOG last year looking for flexible project space for one of their innovation tech teams of almost 50 people. They sought a design-led aesthetic, a convenient and relevant location, and a quick turnaround time. The White Collar Factory on Old Street roundabout, one of fifty-one flex spaces TOG offers, was selected by them as it matched their requirements.

Flex space is the future

The flex-space market is expanding quickly. European Office Outlook 2020, a report published in January by Savills Research, reveals that last year 12 per cent of Europe’s office space was taken up by the flexible workspace sector, up from 10 per cent in 2018.

While flex space is often used by corporates to manage overflow or to assist travelling employees, it appeals to the emergent workforce, too. Indeed, those aged under 35 value workplace flexibility as highly as anything else in a job role. It’s not just the younger generations though, as workplace flexibility is one of the most prevalent trends among UK workers as a whole. In fact, more than three quarters (77 per cent) of respondents to The Future Workplace survey, unveiled in late-2018 by Unum and The Future Laboratory, state it is very important.

As the flex-space market develops, office providers should be aware of three megatrends, highlighted by TOG’s Corporate Proposition report. Firstly, the service level must be raised to meet the standards now expected. Next, flex-space providers are diversifying. Larger, more-established providers are buying smaller competitors in a bid to cultivate a broader ecosystem of organisations and communities.

The third, and most prominent, megatrend in the flexible workspace industry is the proliferation of sector-specific hubs. These facilitate work and collaboration in an isolated industry, tailored to a particular type of clientele. By focusing on a niche sector, a co-working facility creates a community of likeminded members that can support each other by developing a shared knowledge economy.

The TOG report forecasts that by 2029 the flex market will have grown significantly, with many more providers offering sector-specific spaces joining the market. In the coming decade, as office providers explore this new frontier, flexible workspace provision needs to be at the forefront of reimagining and shaping the way people work.

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