What do flexible office providers need to consider when thinking about future proofing their offer?



Guest blog by Yetta Reardon Smith

The challenge that comes with future-proofing any office is in the actual definition itself - ensuring that spaces today are equipped and prepared for tomorrow’s demand. If we have learnt anything over the last 12 months it is that events can occur that take us by surprise and we cannot prepare for everything. However, there are certain things that flexible office providers can do to place themselves in the best position to future proof their product.

The ‘workplace experience’ is going to be more important than ever as we move forward in order to attract people back to the office. Those operators who take advantage of technology developments, which are designed to make today’s workplaces smarter, work harder and be more efficient are going to come out on top.

Technology played a huge role in the pandemic and many of the habits that have been formed are set to stay and will inevitably have an impact on the workplace. A prime example of this is remote communications, which we will continue to use for convenience and accessing people as we adapt to a more hybrid form of working. Pre-pandemic flex space may not have had the specific settings across the space to enable acoustic privacy and minimise distraction.

As corporate occupiers look to include more flexibility into their portfolios and, in line with this, think carefully about seamless user experiences that support the move towards a more hybrid workplace, there is the opportunity for tech to play a greater role. Workspace booking systems that can also locate colleagues and assist with organising teams are typically provided within the organisation. However, if flex office providers are able to link these systems with the booking of coworking or private desk space and help to deliver a frictionless transition between flex space and traditional offices, this would be a significant advantage.

With flex operators also becoming more mindful of occupiers’ heightened sense of needing to feel safe in the workplace, incorporating sensor systems that can also measure air quality, noise and other environmental factors are another way in which technology can help to future proof. The pandemic has highlighted the need for clean and hygienic workplaces. For some occupiers, it will be something that they want to control themselves, particularly if they are a larger tenant however, for others it may need to be delivered by the operators. There will have to be evidence provided to ensure user confidence. Here technology can play a part with sensors that measure user traffic and utilisation to ensure that high touch points are given attention, with apps to advise when desks are in and out of use, at least in the near future as long a social distancing is in place. There is no doubt that tech is only going to become more important at this service level.

Health and wellbeing were already in the top spot of the workplace agenda and the pandemic has only highlighted this even further. As we transition out of recent events these qualities are ever more important, particularly in urban environments. Operable windows have become a hot topic and those environments which provide it will have an advantage, as will those that offer access to outdoor spaces that are well equipped for activities in the open air, both social and work settings.

There are other obvious areas to consider in terms of future-proofing such as operators allowing flexibility in their business model to alter the percentage of space allocated respectively to coworking and privates desks, in line with market demands. However, it is also vital to combine this with tech and wellbeing design elements that will also allow them to be agile and meet the growing and changing needs of their client base over time.