A way out: how coworking spaces are supporting the office return

As organisations look for routes to return to the office, flexible workspaces could provide the missing piece of the puzzle in building the hybrid workplace. This article looks at smart flexible solutions to bring people back

Many companies are looking ahead to how employees will work as the pandemic recedes. Some businesses, such as Cisco, have put in place a hybrid working plan that has no mandates about how often employees go into the office. But other firms, such as Goldman Sachs, want workers to return to offices, and companies like Google may cut the pay for US workers who opt to work remotely.

One of the biggest shifts in corporate working since the pandemic in general is probably the realisation that the office plays an incredibly important role in people’s work – people want and need human connection. As stated in a recent email from Google CEO Sundar Pichai to all Google staff, ‘In-office collaboration will be just as important to Google’s future as it’s been to our past.’

When the pandemic disrupted how people work in 2020, millions of people rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Both employers and employees were soon confronted with a whole wave of both challenges and benefits. But no matter what return-to-work plan companies are pushing, working from home is inevitably shifting from ‘an aberration’ as the CEO of Goldman Sachs put it, to ‘the new normal’. We need an alternative solution to bring people back to the offices in which flexible arrangements are provided.

Boom in coworking

The coworking office market was expected to shrink due to the effects of Covid-19. However, even despite the challenging environment over the last 18 months, shared office providers such as The Executive Centre (TEC) have continued to expand. It’s becoming very clear that flexibility is an asset and that people want choice – where, when and how they work.

What makes coworking space a winning proposition is flexibility, which is the key difference compared with traditional office space. Companies are realising that having more flexible work policies is not only beneficial to the job satisfaction and experience of their employees, but can also empower them to make smarter corporate real estate decisions that positively impacts their operational costs.

Incorporating flexible spaces into their corporate real estate strategy builds business resilience and allows businesses to scale up or down, only paying for the space they actually need.

‘Flexible work policies support job satisfaction and empower employees to make smarter decisions …’

Companies are no longer locked into a long-term lease with a traditional office. Being part of a flexible workspace network also means that their employees are able to access multiple workspace locations as opposed to being stuck with just one. And when we step outside of the cost-saving box, working in the network in an environment with multiple other businesses unlocks many business collaboration opportunities that would not be available if companies were restricted to one single use office.

Digital acceleration

Technology plays a vital role in ensuring people’s safety at workplace. We’ve never been as reliant on technology as we have over the last 18 months. Empowering traditional office desks with digital functions means less cost on manpower. Digital communications is what has made it possible to continue to do business despite lockdowns and reduced travel during the global pandemic. Even returning to the office, we will still rely on these technology platforms to keep us connected to our colleagues overseas.

For many multinational companies, a unified tool or platform that can simultaneously manage all office space is very helpful. Even if companies implement different measures in offices around the world, technology can help companies manage the attendance of all employees on a single platform and implement unified standards to ensure the work experience of employees.

Enterprise managers can implement a short-term space analysis for three to six months to understand how many employees can be accommodated in the office on return, and can maintain a good work experience for employees as well as workplace efficiency, safety and health. Companies can conduct space analysis to understand what their real estate needs will be in the future and, in some cases, this capture and analysis of data can create opportunities for big cost savings.

‘Space analysis can create opportunities for real estate savings across a portfolio of buildings…’

The most successful cases occur when companies understand at their core what their people need and want to be most happy and productive, and then provide a variety of options for them to choose from – a hybrid workplace is the best solution.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) combined technology can help enterprises quickly and reasonably re-plan office space and get a hybrid office. Some employees can choose to work from home or choose a common office space near their home where they have cooperation with the enterprise.

Enterprise firms can also rely on AI and IoT technology to ensure that employees returning to the office have a healthy and safe office environment. In shared office space, desks in open areas have no fixed users, which leads to no unified and fixed disinfection and cleaning time for these desks. If a smart desk equipped with sensors is used, the space manager can be prompted by changing the height or displaying information on the manual control panel 10 minutes after the user checks out, so that the cleaning staff can disinfect and clean, ensuring that it is safely and hygienically provided to the next user.

Partnering with providers

The Executive Centre has been one of the first companies to find a way out as a coworking space provider during the pandemic.

While many companies are retaining their central office hubs, they are also partnering with flexible space providers such as TEC to have smaller satellite offices in the central business districts for their mobile employees to touch down and work from when they are in the area.

The company has evolved with the changing needs of its customers. In responding to the new technology demands of employees, TEC has provided spaces which are as technologically equipped as a traditional office. It also responds to the demand of hybrid working by partnering with large firms to facilitate smaller satellite offices for their mobile employees to work away from the central office hub. The expectation now is that employees can move to different office locations and receive the same technology experience in every location.

These technology integrations not only provide seamless entry into any TEC space – using multiple coworking access passes – but also ensure that employees can be certain that there is a place for them to work through digital reservations systems. The technology is facilitated by an app which is aware of an individual’s preferences and once a desk is booked, the integrated system can then communicate with the booked desk and adjust the height of the desk to the user’s preference. This is one example of how the integrated technology system can enhance the experience of the user – meeting the new expectations of the workforce.

‘Flexible workspaces play a huge role in educating people on how to make their offices more fluid’

We believe that flexibility is the future of work. Flexible workspaces play a huge role in educating people on how to make their offices and policies more fluid. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution but the hybrid model – where there is a mix of traditional, flexible and even third spaces in every corporate real estate portfolio. This is what’s going to set businesses up for success moving forward. Not only will it positively impact their bottom line, but it will also increase employee retention and satisfaction.

This is an interview-based article between 9am and The Executive Centre, a premium shared office solution provider. 9am is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy  
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