What is the Future of Work and Workspaces?

There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of workspace.  On one side, analysts expound the benefits of offices: productivity, connection and serendipity (to name a few).  On the other, working from home during COVID-19 is a natural experiment that validates a trend decades in the making: remote work.  It seems like every day we read a new article outlining the benefits and drawbacks of each.  Mightily ambiguous when you’re in the business of understanding such things.  What to think?

The Answer is Somewhat Open to Interpretation

One perspective of this argument is that they’re both right.  Office workers are people, and people have their own unique preferences and desires.  In a world of expanding options, we believe that the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will no longer be enough.  People want choice after all (up to a point) and workspace operators need to adapt.  What could that look like?

Flexibility in the Work Environment

Let’s start with the more popularized: flexibility.  The word ‘flexibility’ in real estate circles has become more popular than a boy band from the late 90’s.  So much so, it now represents its own category.  They call it ‘flexible workspace.’  According to the thesis, consumers want things on-demand, ownership is so passé, and ‘everything-as-a-service’ is the future.  Just look at WeWork….  Wait, awkward?  Even despite some missteps, we still agree with the broader idea.  The ability to give the customer what they want, when they want it, with increased personalization, customization and nuance, will be the way of future.  This could include hourly passes, daily passes, weekly passes, monthly memberships, yearly memberships, you name it.  If the customer wishes to work full time from the office or part time from home there needs to be flexible options for each.

Aligned Interests Between Operator and Members

Another dimension of work environment flexibility concerns the interaction between workspace operator and member.  We routinely ask ourselves, “are all of our interests aligned?”  From the inception of Phase Two, we made a point to get to know our members and treat them as we would partners.  We aim to understand what flexibility means to them and create ways to work together so that they can excel in their businesses. It’s worth asking: are you sitting on the same side or across from the customer?

Specialization of WorkSpace Experiences

A final facet of flexibility (at least for this article) is a variable that may be even more interesting than the previous two.  We call it ‘space variety.’  A question we introduced at the beginning – what new customer preferences will come to light as we move into the new normal?  What new spaces will be built to accommodate such needs?  In one world, the playdough approach may be the answer: space that can be modularly molded to the customer’s various needs and desires.  Everything from furniture and amenities to service and design offerings.  Technology can no doubt help here.  A Swiss Army Knife space built with everything in mind.  But it’s not the only option.

In another world, individual, localized spaces of varying sizes and scopes may pop up to satisfy very specific customer needs or desires.  Examples of this trend might include spaces designed for: productivity, collaboration, relaxation, networking, education, podcasting, origami, etc.  Think about how design, amenities, technology and service offerings change across each of these.  This list is by no means exhaustive and some of these already exist.  The fun part of the exercise is getting to the core what people actually want!  If a certain percentage of people get to choose whether to go to the office anymore, then as an operator, providing value probably needs to extend beyond just price and convenience.  It will likely take experimentation and  a few failures to really nail this.  But done the right way, it should pave the way for happy customers, stakeholders, and a healthy bank account down the line.  And even if it doesn’t, at least it was a worthy pursuit and you looked good doing it [cue hair flip].

We are always working to improve the experience of space and operation.  If you have any feedback, please send us an email!