The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly continue to be felt for several months to come as we all get used to new measures such a social distancing, only going out when it’s essential and not being able to see friends and family.
Nevertheless, arguably one of the most all-encompassing changes to come out of the situation has been how and where we work. For the majority of us who do not fall into the key workers category, working from home has taken some getting used to, with many a kitchen table, sofa and even garden sheds being used to replace the good old office desk.
With many companies now looking to evaluate what our return to work might look like once a sense of normality returns, integrating working from home into a working week will become something that is discussed as a longer-term way of working. As a result of this, one immediate consideration is what type of space businesses will require.
The ‘hub and spoke’ approach to offices is a model that could become more popular. This involves having a main office (the ‘hub’) and lots of smaller branch offices (the ‘spokes’), which are often closer to employees’ homes. In the post COVID-19 transition period, this model would make a lot of sense: it would reduce the need for workers to use public transport and it would also offer an effective working environment. We expect the higher adoption of this model to increase the demand for suburban flexible offices in the short-term, and in the long-term too, as a portion of workers will likely have the ability and desire to make these working arrangements permanent.
One question that springs to mind is where exactly these new suburban flexible offices will be located. One opportunity might be for flexible offices and co-working to help re-invigorate the high street, by occupying vacant retail units. Creating a space where local people can come to work, as well as access shops or other amenities could be very attractive in both the short term, as people avoid public transport and commuting to city centres, but also in the longer term, as we move to a more flexible and local working culture.
Flexible offices provide an enjoyable and seamless office experience, with an IT infrastructure and internet connection already in place, good ergonomic chairs and desks and, of course, coffee to trump what’s available at home.. Alongside this, they provide a level of social interaction that many people miss while working from home; while you may not have a complete set of colleagues, the element of socialising is still important.
For those living miles out of the city centre and dutifully commuting to a company’s headquarters every day, this could be a transformative solution to those hours spent on a train or in a car. Even before the pandemic, demand for rural flexible offices outweighed supply, with our What Coworkers Want report showing that only 8% of respondents work in rural flexible offices, but 17% cited it as their preferred location. Furthermore, there would also be environmental benefits of more people working locally. Fewer cars on the road and a decrease in the number of people using public transport would arguably be a highly-sought after accolade for any company wanting to promote how it encourages staff to do their bit for the environment.
While this idea could not only fit into a company’s ESG strategy, it could also help reduce a company’s cost base. The use of flexible offices could enable work space to be used more efficiently by allowing workers to use it as and when they need it, helping to save on overheads whilst also acting as a means of igniting local economies and local job creation. In addition, by giving employees control over their working location and environment it is likely to result in a happier and more loyal workforce.
The current pandemic will be a catalyst for people and companies to reassess current practices in all kinds of ways, and the way we work will be a big part of this. Flexible offices present an option for those companies hesitant to commit to a long term lease. The sector is also in a good position to play a vital roles as office occupiers look to the flexible office market in order to diversify and add resilience to their occupation portfolio.