What will the coworking space of the future look like? This isn’t a question with an easy answer, as there are a multitude of factors involved in shaping the space of the future and what it will look like, not least the ever shifting needs of its users.
It is impossible to ignore the seismic effect that the pandemic has had on some of the trends that have marked and will continue to mark the development of coworking spaces and offices in the coming years.
One of the factors that the pandemic brought to the forefront is the concept of health. It may seem incredible, but if you look back and try to remember what the pre-pandemic world was like, you’ll remember what the priorities were at that time. For many, health was nowhere near the top ten.
Back in late 2019, I attended a small event and was approached by a furniture manufacturer. They asked me, perplexed, how it was possible that one of the biggest operators internationally was buying the cheapest chair from them. My response? "That's not true: they're not buying you the cheapest, the one they're buying from you is the cheapest of the chairs that don't look cheap."
At the time the game was one of appearances, it was about spaces being and looking cool. I told him, user health was something that would come to coworking spaces only when the pressure from their customer base became overwhelming, because, we must remember, the user and the customer are not always the same person. My prediction was that this would change in three to five years.
As we move into 2023, health is an issue that we have had on the table for the last three years. Although there is a certain amount of exhaustion, I think that the key actors involved in making decisions about where to source equipment still have health at the forefront of their minds. At the moment, everyone is aware that there may be situations in the future where this is important, because a lack of attention to this issue could lead to spaces being seen as unsafe.
Once this path has been embarked upon, it is very difficult to undo. Brands that have chosen to invest heavily in health as a sales argument, some of them relying on certifications designed to guarantee people's well-being, will want to obtain a return on this investment and will continue to give visibility to this "new" feature well beyond the pandemic.
Every country is different, every industry is different, but 2020 was a pretty equalising moment. Everyone, or virtually everyone, had to work from home. What many industries claimed was impossible, remote working, turned out not to be. There were difficulties, a major one being that many of the people leading teams in the less digitised companies did not have the skills to use the necessary tools because they had never been trained for such a scenario.
The current situation is that, in countries/industries where the power is with the employee, the employee has decided to continue to work remotely. There are many reasons for this and not all of them can be dealt with by the company. For example, eternal commuting, which the employee is now aware that they can do without, outdated offices, and so on and so forth.
If we want a worker to make a journey of 45 minutes each day, I think it is reasonable to think that companies should at least offer them a safe, comfortable, inspiring space that allows them to do their job better. A simple calculation will tell us that we are asking this person to add 33 hours to the 160 hours they already work per month. This represents an extra 21.88% that they already know is not essential and that they are not paid for.
What I think we need to understand is that nothing has settled down yet. In this situation where companies want one thing, workers want another and nobody knows who will win the battle and/or where the balance point will be. In this regard flexible workspaces are the perfect solution. We have been creating spaces that attract people to work in them for more than a decade. We have long been, not a low-cost option, but an option that offers flexibility at a reasonable cost.
Coworking spaces can be the ally many companies are looking for to solve some of the challenges they face today and in the future with their employees. Offering spaces tailored to the specific needs of clients who will continue to enter this market and who will need to renew their pre-pandemic contracts even during 2022 and 2023 will continue to be a challenge for coworking spaces. However, these spaces will also see their current tenancies change as many operators' occupancies do not match the actual use of the space by their clients' employees. This will require years of adjustments and flexibility which, as we will see in a future article, may prove to be a long-term challenge for workspaces.
Companies are not going to replace their offices with flexible workspaces. Well, yes and no. For some, yes, but for many, especially those that are more conservative or larger, the end result (if it even exists) will be a mix of head office (owned, managed by a third party or a coworking space), coworking spaces close to employees' homes and working from home, on the go or from the client's home. We often refer to this as a Hub-and-Spoke working model.
Offering flexible workspace close to employees' homes can become the next perk offered by companies. During the pandemic, many coworking spaces created products along these lines, but now that the spaces have recovered in many cases to pre-pandemic or even higher occupancy levels. Consequently, if they are to continue to offer this walk-in model, their process should be automated as much as possible.
Spaces will need significant amounts of agility and vision to identify and respond to the needs of these clients, and success in this area can lead to a lucrative income stream. Executing this process more effectively than your competitors, and applying technology to enable this pay-per-use model to be as frictionless as possible will very much be the key to success.
Much of this use will come through the use of aggregator platforms that can simplify the operation for the company, or if employees pay for it through platforms that allow use in smaller modules rather than full day passes. Another use will come by contracting the services directly to the space, and whatever the method by which we manage these coworking services in a pay-per-use format, it will be key to optimise and automate the process by eliminating all possible points of friction.
Taking all of the above into account...
They are spaces that take better care of the health of their users, with better furniture, better climate, indoor and outdoor common areas that together make you prefer to work from there rather than from home. I think the trend of creating large, personalised office spaces will only increase.
Going back to common areas, and flexibility, spaces that want to continue to exploit the long tail that flexible use is becoming must adapt to this by offering areas that meet the needs that need to be met. They are not dedicated desk users, they are users who in many cases will have their home less than 20 minutes away on foot and decide to come to your space to work one or maybe two days a week. For some the answer is a café-type environment, for others it will be that they work in the dedicated desk area but in a hot-desk format. I think it will be both and neither because the mix of users is too varied to have a single solution that fits all. Try a mix of café-lounge, tables with monitors that you can connect to with your laptop to large common tables like those you can find in a well-known brand of cafeteria near university centres may be a good way to experiment to decide what is best for our space.
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