The pandemic may have pushed remote work into the mainstream, but people have been dissatisfied with working in an office setting for much longer than that. Today, the same technology that enabled workers to leave the office can be used to entice them back. But what does this welcoming workspace look like, and what does it mean for commercial real estate?
A new study by coworking technology company Essensys in collaboration with Flexible Workspace Australia (FWA) offers some fascinating insights.
Titled “Next, Flex: Technology for the Next Generation Australian Office” highlights the sentiment of Australian office workers in today’s work environment and uncovers the growing expectations for a flexible, technology-enabled workplace. The participants in the study consisted of 1,000 Australians who worked in an office environment at least one day a week, with nearly two-thirds of them doing so 4-5 days a week.
When asked, most employees prefer a hybrid arrangement but don’t necessarily want to work from home full-time. Surprisingly, most workers were not opposed to returning to the office if they didn’t have to go far from home.
But what if they didn’t have to go all the way to their company’s headquarters? What if, instead, the business paid for them to use a flexible workspace close to home? The answer to this survey question was astonishing: 85% responded positively to working from a coworking space as much or more as working from their primary office location.
There were multiple reasons for choosing a flexible workspace, including proximity to home (44%), more productive work environments (26%), convenient meeting locations (32%), unavailable meeting rooms and workspaces at their primary office (29%), and finally, more reliable technology compared to their primary office (29%). Let’s look at these reasons more closely.
Proximity to home is essential because commuting isn’t as easy as it used to be. Covid-19, the rising cost of fuel, and unreliable public transportation have made people more reluctant to travel for work.
It’s no surprise that cubicles aren’t the most productive work environments. Open floor plans have been both praised and criticized in turn. A typical small business may only have one shared conference room, so only one meeting can be held at a time.
And when it comes to reliable technology, 86% of the employees surveyed noted the gap between the technology available in their office and the technology they need to do their jobs.
Nearly 60% of office workers reported that their office building was not prepared for a flexible work experience. That number increases to 90% of respondents when only including the Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen-Z (born 1997-2004). These generations are much more in-tuned with technology, and they expect to find tech innovation in their workplace.
The study also revealed that 41% of workers feel that the substandard technology available within their office causes simple tasks to take too long. And it’s not just the workers who have noticed: 64% of leadership respondents also agreed that they could do their jobs more effectively with better technology. These leaders aren’t just complaining, however. They are also taking action to prioritize workplace redesign and investing in tech-enabled real estate within the next two years.
But what does “tech-enabled real estate” mean? 70% of Australian office workers said these nine enhancements would make them more likely to come back to the office:
- A mobile app used to interact with spaces, services, and amenities
- Smartphone door access
- Sensor-controlled and automated technology (i.e. lighting, climate control, and air quality monitoring)
- Occupancy monitoring showing how many people are in your workspace
- Building-wide Wi-Fi
- Ability to access space and services across a network of locations
- Digital signage for directions, workspace availability, etc.
- Instant meeting room and desk bookings
- A/V control for devices in meeting rooms
While implementing these changes at company headquarters will make a difference once installed, there’s no need to wait until then. These things can be accessible now by incorporating a “hub and spoke” work model.
In this scenario, company headquarters are the hub, but there are multiple spokes, with versions including home offices, coffee shops, or coworking spaces. This model will vary for each business, but the idea is the same: a place where people can be productive together without having to commute to headquarters. An example would be using a flexible workspace, such as Hub Australia, for part of the work week.
“In the new working world, we are entering a period where the demand for seamlessly integrated tech in the workplace is high. We’ve known for some time that the ‘traditional office’ of the past is dead. However, the increase in demand for flexible work arrangements now sits alongside a need for increased workplace tech capabilities—in turn, allowing employees to do their jobs more efficiently,” said Hub Australia’s Chief Property Officer John Preece.
“While the HQ venue will remain an important part of the ecosystem, it will gradually become smaller, better connected, and ultimately have to provide a better experience to retain top talent,” added Preece.
For owners and operators of office space, upgrading technology is crucial to attracting the next generation of workers.
After studying the survey results, Essensys and FWA found three main takeaways for developing commercial real estate in the future.
First: scalability. Whether employees are working at HQ or a flexible workspace, they should expect and receive the same technical resources. Streamlining operations to be consistent and user-friendly is vital. The system you build to support five workers should be able to scale up quickly to 50 workers or 500. Even something as simple as invoicing templates for small businesses should be able to be executed whether you’re running one or one hundred (or more) workers at the HQ or elsewhere.
Second: cybersecurity. Employees of a business should be able to connect seamlessly and securely with each other across the network. Flex workspaces should not bring with them the risk of virtual attacks or data theft. Secure connections, including network segregation and virtual location area networks (VLANs), should be created to reduce these threats.
The third and final takeaway is the end user’s digital experience. This doesn’t just mean having Wi-Fi throughout the building, though that’s crucial. Workers shouldn’t have to use multiple apps or software to accomplish their tasks. Imagine being able to pull up and park in the spot you reserved through an app on your phone, then using the same app to open the door to the building, adjust the climate controls, and book a meeting room. Keep it seamless and straightforward, and end users will appreciate it.
The report’s findings show what Australian workers want their future work environment to look like, and tech-enabled, collaborative spaces are the answer.
We learned how to use technology to work separately during the pandemic. Now, we can use the same technology to bring teams back together again, with one additional member: the workspace itself.