Flexible workspace: the new way

Posted on 15 September 2017 by Oliver Swerdlow, Edel Eustace and Asa Waring

Flexible workspace: an option reserved for tech start-ups or an evolving trend for the full spectrum of the market? What is the attraction to tenants, or 'members' as they are commonly known, of this alternative workspace? And can it be used to provide modern flexibility in the more traditional employment relationship? Here's our take.

  1. Flexibility. Clearly for start-ups, the need for shorter, flexible leases to meet the changing demands on their operations is a significant draw. By their nature, it is common for a successful start-up to quickly evolve from a one or two man project into a larger business, increasing their headcount as the business develops. Whereas the nature of traditional office lettings usually require disruptive office relocation where more space is required, these providers aim to provide a solution to this problem by offering members easy access to more space in the building, causing far less disruption to their members' businesses. Equally, for the more conservative, cautious tenants, the ability to easily scale down (as well as up) the space required by the business is enormously beneficial, removing the risk of taking a 5 or 10 year lease on premises that they may not require mid-way through the term and may be unable to dispose of. Instead, it is the flexible workspace providers that take on the risk of long leases, often from large, institutional landlords, charging their members a premium for the flexibility.
  2. Streamlined. Many of the providers in this space offer their members access to services such as broadband as part of the package when taking space in the building. While clearly benefiting from the economies of scale – the buying power of the providers is far greater than the vast majority of independent tenants – the real benefit is often considered to be an effective way of removing some of the administrative burden for the business. With access to these services from day one, members are able to enjoy a running start on taking occupation, ensuring crucial time is not wasted patiently waiting for the likes of BT and Virgin Media to provide connections.
  3. Community. For some, the opportunity to work in close proximity of a swathe of fellow members is a great attraction. For others, the appeal is to avoid too many grey suits. Either way, whilst not for everyone, a number of the providers pride themselves on creating a community for their members. For start-ups, this can provide vital opportunities to meet potential investors, collaborators and others interested in their field.  While easily put down as marketing gloss, it is clear that it is a genuine goal of a number of the providers to create a real sense of community, where concepts are born and businesses evolve. This is achieved in different ways by the different providers, from informal cafés and break-out areas with free beer in the fridges to more structured networking events hosted and often paid for by the providers in the building.

From an employment perspective, the evolution of flexible workspaces has reached further than start-ups and the tech industry, reflecting the trend towards more flexible ways of working. Previously reserved for parents of young children and carers, all employees now have a right to request to work flexibly, and an increasing number choose to do so, enabled by technology.

Flexible working is not limited to working flexible or part-time hours, but also covers the location where work is carried out. This could mean homeworking but it could also be about utilising flexible workspaces. Renting a desk in an office environment perhaps closer to the employee's home or the premises of a client, will enable an employer to offer flexibility to an employee while potentially optimising business costs.

The employee, or indeed an individual offering services on a self-employed basis, will benefit from the streamlined set up of services, as will the employer, and the sense of community that would be lacking if working from home. As flexible working is becoming more widespread, even more traditional employers may well wish to consider these flexible options to continue recruiting and maintaining the best talent.

This of course includes the new generation of workers focussed on technology and flexibility – see our previous article on incentives here. It is worth noting that, in the Taylor Review on modern working practices published in the summer, along with recommendations for employment status and the gig economy, the report also highlighted the importance of flexibility, engagement and the harnessing of technology, along with increased support for the self-employed. Flexible workspaces could well be the new way.