By Wesley Ankrah, Savills

When we talk about social value, it is essentially thinking past the economic value of providing a service or product, and considering how that process can improve the well-being of employees, local communities, and the wider society – at Savills, we refer to this as the ‘Four Pillars of People’. Pillars one and two include people who live and work at the asset (the primary focus), pillar three includes people who access the asset through public routes and pillar four is people who would not typically access the asset (often a missed opportunity). When the needs of the people within these four pillars are considered, this opens up a wider social aspect to development to produce significant value and a lasting positive impact.

When considering the ‘S’ in ESG, due to the lack of policy around social value, it is often considered a ‘good to have’ rather than a ‘must have’. Many organisations have established strategies around achieving the ‘E’ and the ‘G’ but by not considering social initiatives they risk not attracting occupiers, members, and employees, who expect more from their experiences of coming into the space.  Social value tends to vary across different sectors, so what does it look like in the flexible office market, and what are the opportunities for both occupiers and operators to support all four pillars of people?

Maximising Social Value in Flexible Office Spaces

When delivering a social value strategy, it is essential to identify all associated stakeholders within the local community and local authority – that way you can see the potential reach of your initiatives and the opportunities to do more.  Social value for flexible offices is hugely impacted by the purpose of the building and who the target audience of users is. The key difference for flex operators is the ability to upsell amenities and services to occupiers as well as host external events that can be monetised. Operators therefore have a number of ways to maximise social value as outlined below:

Food and beverage

Outsourced services like cafes run by social enterprises can deliver social value benefits by their very presence. For example, at its space in Brighton, Plus X has incorporated Café Domenica, a non-profit café that gives young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn new skills in a real work environment. In addition, GPE works with a number of social enterprises including SEND Coffee, Nemi Tea and Luminary Bakery, stocking kitchen areas with their products and introducing them to their customers.

Plus X, Brighton

Partner up

Partnering with local institutions and charities is a great way to help create jobs and internship opportunities for underrepresented groups, and delivers value beyond the predominant pillars. For example, Plus X partners with Dad La Soul, an organisation combating the social isolation of fathers, holding monthly playdates at their space in Brighton. They also work with the Girls Network to develop a series of workshops at secondary schools to introduce entrepreneurship to girls between the ages of 14 and 18. Second Home partners with ELATT and a number of local organisations to boost literacy and employment among the local residents through their initiative, Libreria Language Labs. Every Monday, they use their bookstore, Libreria, to host practical language and literacy skills workshops for migrants living in Tower Hamlets.

Second Home, Clerkenwell House, London

Using space for good

Having social value as part of your mission, an educational programme, or an award system is a great way to make provision for underrepresented demographics. Patch takes empty or neglected local buildings transforming them into co-working spaces. These spaces are often used as community spaces where people can work, meet and discover local initiatives. Workspace’s InspiresMe programme supports disadvantaged young people in London by offering CV and career workshops, one-to-one mentoring and work experience placements. Huckletree hosts an annual Alpha Programme which is a 12-week accelerator designed for pre-seed founders from underrepresented background and has since assisted 83 aspiring founders in launching their businesses. X+Why are driving social value by supercharging member impact with their Buy 1 Give 1 scheme, which has resulted in 4,054 trees being planted, 446 meals provided and 78 people given access to clean water. Fivefields is an impact-driven workspace operated by X+why  and developed by Grosvenor in collaboration with the Westminster Foundation. The building delivers collaborative co-working space in Victoria aimed at charities and social impact organisations, and the Westminster Foundation offers grants to selected charities to help them rent workspace alongside other purpose-lead occupiers.

GPE, Kent House, Fitzrovia, London

Social value in flex – the occupiers' perspective

Occupiers also have the chance to create value where they take flex space. Occasionally, occupiers can consider allowing access to local groups to foster greater connection with local stakeholders. Additionally, they may explore offering discounts to social enterprise businesses that pledge to reinvest their earnings into charitable causes or social initiatives. Occupiers can commit to a “social value charter” by aligning the social value aspirations of all occupants, such as ensuring a Real Living Wage. Flexible office operators can choose to set up donations that are directly linked to memberships.

The value of social value – how do you know your social value efforts are working?

In order to measure the impact of social value, there has to be an agreed set of metrics. For example, dedicating an hour a week in meeting rooms to local charitable organisations will equivalate to a number that can be tracked.  The impact of that measure can then be ascertained by surveying the stakeholders (both the beneficiaries and the businesses) to ask them how e.g. out of 10, the impact has translated to them. Qualitative surveys is also useful to discover new social value initiatives which will support further impact delivery.

Looking forward

The flex sector will continue to adapt to meet the evolving requirements of social impact. With employees increasingly demanding more from their employers in terms of giving back to the local community, operators, landlords, and occupiers need to work together to ensure they are meeting their social value strategy and creating a lasting social value impact.

 Social value is about a mindset shift, integrating the impact on people and the planet into everyday culture, guiding purpose and activities, and sharing best practices, aligning with local communities in the hope of accelerating the adoption of social value initiatives across the industry. It is key to remember that genuinely impactful social value should be viewed as an investment, not a cost, and the right investment in social value creates a better quality space for people to thrive.

Looking for a flexible office space?

Get in touch