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The future of coworking environments

23 January 2020

Cleaning Matters reviews an IFMA/RICS panel debate to address the questions around coworking and managed office space sectors

Although 80% of coworking spaces are targeted at individual workers, there is still a large focus on start-ups and SMEs. In addition, there is also room for larger corporates to join this popular movement; one in 20 companies with 100+ employees utilise coworking spaces to some degree. As part of Advanced Workplace Associates’ Workplace Week London 2019, a charitable week-long event celebrating workplace creativity and innovation, IFMA UK and RICS organised a panel debate to address the questions around the coworking and managed office space sectors, to explore the pros, the cons and the future of the scene. 

The panel comprised:

  • Lucy Jeynes, MD of Larch Consulting, who chaired the debate
  • Angela Love, director at bespoke workplace fit-out and relocation specialist Active Workplace Solutions
  • Di Thorpe, head of estates at the Royal Academy of Music
  • Graham Peel, MD of Integrated Solutions at global FM service provider Atalian Servest
  • Kurt Mroncz, MD of leading brokerage of flexible and coworking space Offices iQ
  • \Justin Harley, regional director at global technology and real estate company Yardi
  • Zoë Watts, commercial director at Vacherin, London’s premier contract caterer

Channeling productivity

The first area of debate tackled how to channel productivity and flexibility into very real aspects of company estate and structure.

The panellists unanimously agreed that it is essential for employers to strive to deliver the best possible employee experience. With recent research finding that the average Brit will spend more than 1700 hours at work annually, it should come as no surprise that the physical workplace can influence everything from the mood and culture to individual and collective performance.  

A key takeaway was that choice is a fundamental element of work today. No-one wants to be told they have one fixed way of working. Nowadays, employees value flexibility, versatility and variety. People want to enjoy their work and have emotional connections with their colleagues, as well as a sense of belonging in the spaces they occupy.

Atalian Servest’s Graham Peel noted that one of the exciting challenges being required of FM is the need to support property managers in the ever-increasing use of flexible spaces. "Workplaces are being pushed to the limit, both in terms of capacity of personnel and the increase in the usage of facilities and amenities synonymous with co-working spaces," he said.

"We are partnering with our clients in this space to help balance the commercial challenges of an increasing cost base and scope of services required. The time window to provide services is much less than in traditional FM environments due to an increased rate of activity and churn in the workspaces. Consequently, the pressure on FMs to support workplace leads and property managers is increasing and FM providers need to be innovative and flexible."

The need for flexibility

Zoë Watts shared her experience from the perspective of providing catering services for today’s dynamic workforce. She stated that her firm, Vacherin, believes that food brings people together and provides the break-out spaces and social set-ups to facilitate such dining is fundamental for modern workplaces. Staff don’t want to be sat at a desk for nine hours a day; they want to be able to break away into different spaces such as communal areas, eat away from their screen and meet other colleagues for coffee. 

Angela Love added that the growth of flexible and coworking spaces is not necessarily limited to trendy cities and business hubs. She noted that from Active’s experience in the bespoke workplace sector, it appears that more businesses are opening in rural and suburban areas. The market is waking up to the fact that people can, and will, work anywhere.

The business world is no longer restricted by geographic factors because forward-thinking companies do not expect their employees to travel into cities every day of the week. Therefore, the most practical solution is to offer working options anywhere.

“People work from cafés, restaurants, libraries, train stations, their own bed,” said Love, stressing the need for employers to not only acknowledge but embrace shifting working patterns.

Serviced offices

Finally, Offices iQ’s Kurt Mroncz shared his experience of the flexible and serviced office space. He highlighted the fact that a challenge for managers of flexible spaces is the pressure to operate at appropriate capacity. The average serviced office operates at an 80 - 90% occupancy level at any given time, said Mroncz, which raises the concern that the remaining 10% of space then becomes a wasted asset.

While recent publicity suggests there is a coworking revolution, the reality is that coworking has been around for a long time and was originally launched to fill the last 10% of business centres and/or to build a community. In today’s competitive market, it can be hard to make a pure coworking centre profitable without the commercial benefit of adjoining serviced office space with longer term clients, generally with an average commitment of 12 months. Therefore, the providers of flexible space need to ensure they optimise the utilisation of their space.

In summary, the panel clearly felt that there were turbulent times ahead for the world of coworking and serviced office spaces. While there are many new and exciting opportunities for businesses to delve into different ways of working, there are equally as many challenges to overcome.

What is for certain, however, is that no company, regardless of scale or history, should settle for complacency in the world of work.