Gensler and the British Council of Offices (BCO) recently conducted joint research on the rise of flexible workspace in the UK. According to the '2019 Rise of Flexible Workspace in the Corporate Sector Report,' 40% of flexible space users would rather work from a conventional office; only 29% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the flexible workplace had increased their efficiency for tasks where they needed to concentrate, while 38% disagreed; and 57% of flexible workspace users reported being happier at work.
While the future of co-working is increasingly being explored as part of academic and industry research, there has been limited focus on what it means for large corporate occupiers. This report aims to do just that by identifying the drivers of - and the barriers to - the use of flexible space and co-working by large corporate occupiers.
Co-working has evolved from being the realm of freelancers and start-ups to being part of the corporate arena. As uncovered in Gensler Research Institute's US Workplace Survey 2019, 14% of respondents working for companies of 100 or more employees reported using co-working space for part of their average working week. The latest and increasingly dominant revolution in coworking shared space has seen employees of large corporates working away from their main office space outnumbering freelancers. In 2018, corporate occupiers made up a quarter of WeWork's members and revenue globally. However, the recent developments of WeWork will have a knock-on effect on how the co-working model moves forward. Especially so with the likes of Knotel, whose business model is geared entirely towards large corporates.
Despite this rising trend, approximately 40% of flexible space users would prefer to work from a conventional office. A comparison of the preference for traditional versus flexible space across industry sectors shows that 46% of those in consulting services would prefer to return to a traditional set-up, compared to 37% in financial services. "A one-size-fits-all flexible workspace does not cut it," commented Cesar Jeri, Digital Workplace Strategy Lead at Verizon. "There are still many firms with a high degree of process with individual focus needs; so flexible and collaborative spaces can be highly distracting for some whilst energising for people in other parts of the business. A workspace needs to be first and foremost inclusive and empower people to make a choice so that it can address the needs of most, if not all, its end users."
Corporate Users: Future of Co-working
UK-based large corporates are at different stages in the adoption of flexible workspace. The more mature corporates adopting flexible spaces have combined several approaches that enable them to collect feedback on user experience in order to have a better understanding of the type of spatial settings and flexible working arrangements that drive employee productivity and enrich user experience.
Having initially favored individual memberships of co-working spaces or taking space on-demand for a specific project, large corporates in the UK are now increasingly seeing the benefits of either developing their own co-working area within their real estate portfolio or leasing a private area in a shared serviced space. Collaborative or shared spaces were rated as the top three spatial features in the user survey conducted for this study.
The individual membership model is generally implemented as a 'quick fix' approach, with a number of large corporates adopting this model as a supplement to, or even as a replacement for, 'swing spaces' - with the aim of accommodating peaks and troughs of demand, which they have traditionally held within their own real estate portfolios.
"Our research suggests that the companies interviewed are all progressively moving away from this individual membership model and capitalizing on lessons learned - implementing a flexible workplace strategy in their own space where they can influence its design, tailor the user experience and envision specific business outcomes," explained Jane Clay, Principal and Design Director at Gensler. "This approach also has the added benefit of enabling large corporates to personalize their space and showcase their brand within a less traditional work environment, with a direct positive impact on their recruiting process."
Research was based on responses from 540 corporate users of flexible space from financial services (38%), real estate (36%) and consulting services (21%), amongst others. Companies interviewed include British Land, GSK, RBS, WeWork, Microsoft, Vodafone, HSBC and Verizon.