Are coworking workspaces moving away from being the preserve of tech start-ups and small businesses and attracting medium to larger sized corporates? If so, what could the uptake of coworking mean for FMs in terms of offering high quality amenities and ensuring that the level of service is maintained?
Ask anyone 10 years ago about whether they’d consider a serviced office space and they might have looked puzzled. The serviced office of old was seen as a functional product, with location and a flexible lease being the main benefits. It was typically attractive to SMEs and was sometimes perceived as a last resort.
Fast-forward a decade and serviced offices provide not just location and lease flexibility but also emotional benefits through a strong design and community element. By bringing together property, hospitality and technology, they have become destinations in their own right. People can’t wait to sign up.
And that has meant that while they used to be mainly the preserve of the start-up or scale-up, they’re now an attractive option for well-established businesses. Larger organisations use serviced office space as spill-over workspace for projects, as a regional head office or a base for support services functions, to create an innovative space outside of the core workplace and for outreach.
We’re seeing a move from the head office being a one-stop-shop for workspace – with the downsides of long commutes, low occupancy and productivity and high rents – to a more distributed model where the head office sits alongside other workspaces including serviced office space. This reduces costs for the core business, reduces the commute for the employees while boosting occupancy and productivity and attracting talent. It’s no wonder that by the end of the next decade, 30 per cent of all office space in London is forecast to be flexible workspace.
This innate flexibility means that serviced office space is an attractive option to many different functions within an organisation. And there may be a temptation for some areas of a business to go directly to serviced office providers, bypassing the real estate and facilities team. That’s why it’s important that facilities professionals engage with flexible office providers at the strategic stage, exploring the various options for their businesses. They can then present the opportunities within their own organisations ensuring that flexible office space is managed in the same way as an organisation’s long-term leased and owned space.
At the same time, there is much the traditional corporate workplace can borrow from this generation of serviced office space. From high-levels of service and hospitality through concierges and hotel-trained front-of-house staff to the latest sensor-based technology and range of meeting and working areas, in many ways flexible offices are leading the way when it comes to office design and management. Serviced offices are facilities 2.0. Which is why many organisations are choosing to create coworking spaces within their own facilities, bringing the best of the serviced office world into the corporate one.
Serviced offices have turned full circle over the past decade – from bland temporary spaces to attractive, high-spec workplaces which people are drawn to work in. Now is the time for FM to embrace flexible offices as part of their remit.
Coworking is viewed as new buzz word, often twined with agile and flexible working. But we must remember that it is not new for small and single independent businesses who have used the concept of shared office space to engage, motivate and network their business with likeminded independent and medium sized organisations across the country and further afield for a number of years. The bug now looks like it is hitting the larger organisations. There is an inherent need for flexibility within the ever changing client environment with more flexible working patterns, the request for changing office facilities, mixed with the ever demanding changing landscape of work and the economy. With this the facilities managers role must evolve, to help support organisations looking for flexible coworking opportunities; to decrease costs, release equity in property, enable flexible operations, with an emphasis on quality, business development, growth and connectivity for employees and their business.
This is proving an interesting conundrum for FMs whose responsibilities already lie in ensuring that the workplace is a fit place to operate. FM’s must consider health & safety, ergonomics and specialist employee needs, technology, occupational comfort and environmental impact to ensure that the workplace is productive. Coworking environments requires them to move into customer service as a focal point within their role. It means creating a dynamic, engaging workspace which includes the scheduling of space, privacy, facilities operations, cleanliness, hygiene, professional self-presentation, social interactions, health & wellbeing, meeting spaces, conference areas, breakout, recreational space and connective working. All with potential multi-business operators.
Is this a real step forward for FM? In one respect yes, with a more dynamic and expansive organisational footprint with multi-tenants and uses. However, in some ways for FMs this is not as unusual as it may initially seem, as many already looking after multi-tenanted buildings. This new [coworking] concept just evolves further to combine not just communal areas but office and work spaces with multiple changing cultures and organisations. The key is communication, using the right technology for scheduling as larger client operations start to look at the concept and move away from their traditional office environments into a more flexible space. The question is – will this be a fad or a lasting concept with the changing nature of business and technology increasing its foothold in organisations? My money is on longevity as it will ensure business and organisational sustainability through better use of space. We must be mindful however, that this concept will need time to evolve for larger organisations as they start to alter their work patterns and challenge their culture to enable change. There will be pitfalls and challenges if some of the market leaders decide to follow the coworking path but, if done correctly the outcomes could lead to better building efficiency, higher spec’d workspaces and improved engagement level. This is all better for employees, business and the environment.