Whilst the world of work has been primed to undergo some significant changes for some time, the pandemic has initiated an acceleration of this change, and I believe that we will now see a rapid move away from the traditional office space and toward more flexible workspace arrangements, along with an increased prevalence of serviced offices and coworking spaces.
We have all certainly seen changes in our routines for better or worse. From face masks becoming apparel as common as underwear to hand sanitizer and temperature checking being standard fare for entrance into most buildings, you can feel the changed world everywhere you go. Whilst many of these changes have been an added necessary inconvenience, I contend that there is at least one change in our modus operandi, that can be of significant and long-lasting benefit: the change in our work routines. The traditional office space norm of a basecamp setup for all employees was slowly changing even prior to the pandemic, but got shattered as soon as COVID-19 hit. The pandemic provided a global case study for the value of flexible workspace which has been touted by those within the serviced office and coworking space industry for years. This value can be understood by way of a comparison with older ways of working; traditional office space arrangements, because of their long leases and rigidity, are a liability that adds a layer of cost on businesses and that is untethered from the industry fluctuations which necessitate businesses to remain nimble and agile. My belief that traditional office space arrangements are a thing of the past stems from three interrelated trends:
(1) The paradigm which drove the logic of organising human resources in a traditional (closed) workspace is being overturned. Flows of knowledge facilitate growth of innovation systems by driving innovation, and the availability of both technical knowledge and production means has democratised much of the innovation process by fracturing the vertical mode of developing innovations for a more horizontal (open) innovation process. Businesses have therefore had to become more open to external influence in undertaking innovation activities and growing their businesses by opening themselves up to their broader national innovation systems. Workspace arrangements must now reflect this change by becoming centres of collaboration and creativity by providing a more open, collaborative, and shared space where knowledge is transferred and innovation can flourish. Because this means creating flows of knowledge between both internal and external resources, having a more distributed workforce (facilitated by flexible workspace arrangements) may be an initial advantage and an eventual necessity.
(2) Whilst new digital technologies made remote work available decades ago, the pandemic suddenly thrust this way of working upon employees. Many have taken well to such flexibility, and the option to work remotely is quickly becoming an employee expectation. Traditional long-leases and rigid office space agreements do not lend themselves well to a decentralised workforce with expectations of flexibility. Therefore, companies looking to attract and retain the best talent must leverage workspace infrastructures that help facilitate this flexibility. In other words, they must turn to flexible workspaces to successfully provide a hybrid work model.
(3) The dynamic nature of industry requires that firms remain nimble and able to pivot or change strategic course according to economic realities. Corporate targets have become significantly more ambitious, and the ability to attain these in a deeply competitive market landscape have become more demanding, with disruptive innovation strategies becoming more commonplace. Keeping abreast of such factors is not enough; maintaining the agility necessary to react to external influences necessitates a more flexible operation in the context of more flexible office space agreements. Businesses must be able to rapidly scale both up and down their operations, R&D, sales and marketing, whether within select regions or in the context of their entire business. Again, flexible workspace facilitates this whilst traditional office space inhibits it.
Each of these trends will likely drive a movement away from traditional office space and increase the prevalence of serviced offices and coworking spaces. In short, from a growth, employee, and risk perspective, replacing traditional office space with flexible workspace is an option quickly becoming a necessity for firms of all sizes. What’s more, is that these are not realities brought about by COVID-19; each of these trends was a reality prior to the pandemic, which has arguably accelerated them. The future of workspaces is here. The question is not a matter of if, but one of when such agreements become the norm, and which firms will capitalise on the benefits that come with such agreements before their competition.
In a series of follow-up pieces, I will try and flesh out in a little more detail each of these arguments. If I succeed, I hope to at least have you viewing your office space agreement with fresh eyes; at most, I hope to convince you to take action on the potential you now see and move you to actualise that potential.
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