Reinventing the Office

All aboard for the flexible workspace revolution

What’s your workplace like? Is it a hub of creativity and positive vibes that you look forward to at the start of every day? Or is it more like the mockumentary The Office, a fermenting brew of ill-matched personalities, seething resentment and rampant egotism?

We’ve all experienced the latter in our working lives, which is what makes The Office so painfully funny. But there’s a deeper truth, which is that many of us spend more daylight hours in the company of colleagues than we do with our loved ones. And however well you get along, years of the same old faces and situations can feel like you’re stuck in a rut.

From an organisation’s point of view, an office is a millstone. The costs of long-term leases, furnishing, Wi-Fi, electricity, water, A/V gear, printer, office supplies and other utilities are a major expense, and one that’s hard to flex when markets change

So it’s not surprising that flexible working spaces are forecast to more than double globally by 2022. From an organisation’s perspective, co-working offers a pay-as-you-go approach to support services that can change as the business demands – so if, for instance, your business loses a client in LA but gains one in San Diego you can simply relocate key team members to a new, ready-made office environment. But the individual also benefits. Fresh faces, a shared space and networking opportunities all keep people upbeat and alert to new opportunities when they’re in a co-working environment.

According to GCUC (the Global Coworking Unconference Conference) and Small Business Labs, the number of global coworking spaces is set to grow from 14,411 in 2017 to just over 30,000 in 2022. In another survey, by the International Workplace Group, 91% of respondents said that flexible workspace enables employees in their company to be more productive, and 81% said remote working locations help employees achieve a better work/life balance.

WeWork, the U.S.-based space-as-a-service provider, has been in the news recently after delaying its initial public offering. But while the management has been under pressure, the bandwagon keeps rolling. WeWork is now London’s largest private sector office tenant and worldwide manages over 46 million sq.ft of office space. And it’s not just start-ups and freelancers who want flexible workspaces – HSBC recently took over 1,000 desks in WeWork Waterloo.

The sector is evolving fast. At the cutting edge are co-working environments like Second Home, currently at four locations in London as well as Lisbon and Hollywood. This is a social business, with a mission to support creativity and entrepreneurship. It’s a curated workspace that’s as far from a soulless partitioned grey box as it’s possible to get, with lots of greenery, meeting spaces, cultural events and inspiring décor. Another creative hub is Alma in Stockholm, a members’ club and private workspace that offers its members a place to work, meet, dine and socialize, with regular arts exhibitions and guest speakers to spark those creative ideas.

Co-working can be as simple as a place with a desk, Wi-Fi and office support that you can use on a flexible basis. Or it can be a new way of working, where members are encouraged to network, socialise and learn from others in different businesses, creating a self-sustaining ecology like a coral reef. An emerging trend is towards niche-specific workspaces, like shared biolabs, writers’ spaces, female-focused spaces and creative industries.

Home working was the future once, of course. But working from home can be lonely, there’s always a temptation to blur home and work tasks, and it doesn’t suit everyone. Human beings are social animals and these new co-working environments offer a tempting blend of social interaction, stimulation and flexibility. And unlike The Office, the cast of characters changes every day.