It’s no secret that COVID-19 has transformed the office forever. With employees mostly working from home, the pandemic has presented companies with an unprecedented opportunity to press pause on operations and rethink the fundamentals of the physical workplace.
Business owners are asking the question: what is the office truly for? Is it a place for new hires to learn from experienced mentors? Is it a way for bosses to keep an eye on their staff? Is it simply a reason to get out of the house?
The pandemic has shown that good, productive work is possible from somewhere else. The traditional office – with its face-to-face conversations and in-person meetings – simply isn’t a requirement for companies to maintain their output.
But still, working from home leaves much to be desired—especially when distractions such as childcare, roommates, or lagging internet connections make focused work a challenge.
Making the shift: the coworking solution
In a post-pandemic world, coworking spaces provide a unique solution for companies looking for a hybrid alternative to the traditional office. As commercial vacancies continue to rise, coworking offers a best-of-both-worlds office environment: a value-driven professional setting that can be utilized as-needed.
Not only is coworking a much more cost-effective solution than hefty long-term leases, but there aren’t any surprises.
After closing their office in October of last year, WikiLawn’s President Dan Bailey decided to shift his team to a coworking space mainly because of the flexible terms for scheduling and payment.
“I’m not paying an astronomical utility bill on top of the cost of rent,” says Bailey. “I know exactly what I’m going to be charged each month and can work it into the budget.”
Already, real estate companies that specialize in long-term leases are feeling the effects of this realization. Boston Properties and Vornado Realty Trust, for example, have lost more than a third of their stock-market value in the last year alone.
Utilizing coworking for talent acquisition
In addition to the cost-savings and flexible terms, companies that have made the shift to coworking spaces are also seeing the huge advantages of the networking opportunities they present.
“If you choose your coworking space wisely, you can gain access to a potential goldmine when it comes to talent and new contacts,” affirms Milosz Krasinski, Managing Director at Chillifruit. Based in Poland, Krasinski’s team currently operates out of The Bridge in Wroclaw and Cluster Cowork in Katowice.
“My business is all about forging new relationships, and so I’ve found this kind of working really useful in broadening my contact base, including adding some new freelancers to my books,” says Krasinski.
With many workers feeling increasingly isolated as a result of COVID-19 restrictions on daily life, coworking allows for much-missed social interaction as well. Maintaining a sense of community, even among remote workers from disparate teams, can be fundamental to productivity, providing the space for mental respite and outside stimulation during the workday.
The value of coworking for teams
A final advantage of coworking in comparison to traditional offices is that this type of setup allows teams to remain agile and customize their workspace throughout various phases of growth.
Since coworking spaces are often open-plan layouts, many operators have the ability to create completely custom setups for members with teams.
At Hera Hub Carlsbad, for example, teams work with the operator to create a membership plan that takes into account their individual needs—such as the number of employees who plan to use the space, approximate monthly hours of usage, and projected usage of conference rooms.
Community Director Tamina Madsen says this is key for enterprises that are shifting to hiring remote employees.
“All three of our San Diego locations have reciprocity, meaning members can cowork from any of the locations at no charge, with no questions asked,” says Madsen.
This can be particularly appealing to teams that want to schedule client meetings or collaborative work sessions in a location that’s most convenient for all attendees. Moreover, Hera Hub frequently devises mutually agreeable “plan shares” in which a single membership can be split and shared among a team.
“For instance, we have a Carlsbad-based member with a remote employee on the East Coast who now frequently works out of our D.C. location,” says Madsen.
In a world where health and safety have become primary concerns, companies are becoming hesitant to condensed workspaces where viruses like COVID-19 can easily spread.
As a result, hybrid workspaces like coworking spaces are growing in appeal for their cost-savings, flexibility, and ease of use—a trend that will only continue to fortify.
The switch from traditional office space to flexible serviced space, including co-working and managed office space has been a revolution in slow motion. More than 29 years ago academic researchers were saying that up to 20% of office space was non core and were predicting that companies would gradually realise the benefits of flexibility.
The long term growth of the serviced office industry over the period, best typified by Regus, now IWG plc, a growth which has accelerated rapidly since the arrival of WeWork followed by the pandemic, suggests that the academics were being cautious and the right figure may turn out to be 30% rather than 20%.
Whether the final number is 20% or 30%, there is a long way to go from the current market share of nearer 5%. This bodes big changes for real estate owners and for the firms that service them. The latter can no longer afford to ignore the flexible office industry as they did for most of the last 20 years and will have to roll up their sleeves and do some work.