Flexible Space In The Covid Age
The Covid-19 prompted mass home working experiment proved flexibility is here to stay. IWG’s Alexander Sykes looks at how businesses are adopting flexible working and what that means for office space.
31 October 2020
Covid-19 has transformed our day-to-day lives and turned millions of us into unsuspecting home working guinea pigs. Around the world, offices have been replaced by beds, sofas, kitchen tables and sheds almost overnight, with coworkers that range from partners to parents to pets.
Working from home may have kept many businesses in New Zealand ticking over, but the pandemic has shown that it’s far from perfect. For many companies, the hunt for a better model is now on, and the single solution to their needs is likely to be one thing – greater flexibility.
The 2010s: The Decade Of Flex
For some, flexibility means being able to choose your own working hours, while for others, it’s about having the freedom to work closer to home, or anywhere you like for that matter.
Whatever flexible working means to you, demand for a way of working tailored to the needs of the employee has soared in recent years. Even before the pandemic forced remote working upon us, almost three quarters of us already considered it the norm.
However, IWG research from only last year showed that there were still several lingering concerns for businesses that hadn’t already made the switch to flexi working. We found that 45% of businesses globally were worried about data security when employees work remotely, while two-thirds were skeptical about changing their traditional organizational culture.
Covid-19 Forcing Change
The 2019 IWG Global Workspace Survey showed that globally on average 62% of businesses already had a formal flexible working policy in place. For businesses who hadn’t already embraced a more flexible business model, the pandemic has forced them to try it, and employers and employees alike have noticed the benefits.
Analytics firm Visier found that 70% of employees working remotely for the first time were more or equally as productive as they are in the office. This boost in productivity is not only likely to make workers feel more fulfilled and motivated in their work, but it can also benefit the company’s bottom line due to increased efficiency.
What’s more, since the start of the pandemic, the likes of Twitter, Google , and Facebook have all realised the benefits to be had from remote working. They have announced that their staff will be able to continue working flexibly for the foreseeable future should they wish.
Working from home has served its purpose in keeping employees safe. But the pandemic has also shown that this model isn’t a long-term solution for workers looking for greater flexibility, or for their employers for that matter.
Why Working From Home Isn’t Working
According to business insights firm Qualtrics, since working from home, almost half of the employees have reported a decline in their mental health and one-third say they have difficulty concentrating. Further, seven in 10 home workers have reported increased feelings of burnout, stress, and anxiety, according to job site Monster.
This is a huge problem in terms of employee wellbeing and can cause a significant drop in the overall productivity of a business, with a potential increase in sick day requests or staff just not getting as much done as they would normally.
Even before five days of working from home was the norm, employees reported that distractions from family members, not having a suitable workstation and a lack of social interaction was their biggest bugbears of working from the dining table.
But while the work from home model is approaching its expiry date, the pandemic has shown that remote working as a wider concept works. What that means is that office space is not dead – but it’s changing.
A Distributed Workforce
The long-term shift to remote working will fundamentally change the way businesses use office space, reducing the demand for central headquarters. It’s an exciting time for suburban areas and the people who live in them, as location becomes less of a barrier to securing a job opportunities. Employers too will have access to a new international talent pool if they wish.
However, having the right infrastructure is key for employees and businesses looking to take advantage of these opportunities, which is where flexible workspaces come into their own. As the demand for remote working has developed over the last decade, so has several flexible workspaces available to those who want to work from anywhere.
Figures provided by Statista show that the number of coworking centers have increased by a staggering 1000% globally in the last 10 years alone, and estimates indicate that the market will continue to gain momentum from 2021, with a yearly the growth rate of 21.3%.
While the outlook for flexible workspace providers are very positive, it’s also important that they take into account the concerns of their customers, who may be worried or anxious about being in an office environment following the pandemic.
But with demand for flexible work growing, so too are the opportunities for office property owners. Converting office properties into flexible workspaces gives them the ability to be more adaptable themselves. It enables them to take a less traditional approach to their leases and can help alleviate issues with vacancies.
‘Flexible work was already gaining attraction before lockdown. However, Covid-19 has turbocharged its adoption’
What IWG Is Doing To Help
Managed office spaces marry the best parts about working from home and from the office. We know that people enjoy flexibility, but they also want to have a productive day and clock-off feeling accomplished. As the world’s largest flexible workspace provider, IWG is powering this flexible working revolution safely and responsibly.
For commercial property owners, IWG has a programme which opens the coworking serviced office market in New Zealand up for franchise. It enables commercial property owners to enter the flexible workspace industry – with assistance and support.
To be a part of the programme, property owners need to have several properties and IWG will work with them to add value to the properties and to market them to high-quality commercial tenants. It can offer them scale, corporate contacts, a global network and infrastructure, and a proven business model with different brands to suit different customers.
The coming years look very positive for flexible working – and the properties which provide spaces for it. Flexible work was already gaining traction before lockdown. However, Covid-19 has turbocharged its adoption.
It now looks set to continue gathering pace in the next decade, as businesses recognise its benefits for employees and the company’s balance sheets. Together, commercial property landlords and flexible workspace providers can work to power business in New Zealand in the new normal and ensure workers and employees reap the benefits of working closer to home.
Time For A Revolution
The need to re-think office spaces was one of the major trends to emerge from a new survey of Australasian businesses which aimed to understand more about workplaces in the age of Covid-19.
Frog Recruitment’s World of Work 2020 survey involved 600 senior managers representing more than 356,000 employees across a range of sectors.
It’s no surprise that the survey’s strongest data highlighted the shift from the office to working from home. More than a fifth of the Kiwi businesses surveyed offered fully flexible policies allowing employees to move between working from home and the office, while over half had agreed to managed flexibility.
The shift to flexible working policies might have been the dominant trend to emerge, but it also pointed to another major trend: the re-thinking of office spaces. Almost one third of respondents (31%) confirmed their organisation had reduced common space as a result of Covid-19.
Valentina Machina, from architectural firm Jasmax, believes working from home has a place going forward but says it is not an “either or” scenario.
“In our Covid-19 world, workplace designers have an enormous opportunity to revolutionise ways of working. There are multiple paths that could lead to the creation of more human centric office spaces while reaping the great benefits of working from home.”
They are looking at space optimisation to provide tailor made solutions and ways to improve two concepts: “One is that the office is a collaborative and creative place, and the other is that the office is a space of interaction and activities, which includes maximising how we use technology.”
Frog Recruitment managing director Shannon Barlow says the survey results provide valuable insights into the pulse of the workforce. “Businesses need to adapt to new ways of working to reflect the colossal shifts that have happened this year and seize the opportunities to review and reset their workplace for a stronger future.”