Many flexible office users would prefer to work in conventional space

Many people would prefer conventional offices to flexible office spaceJoint-research from Gensler and the British Council of Offices (BCO) on the rise of flexible workspace in the UK corporate sector claims that 40 percent of flexible office users would rather work from a conventional office. According to the report, while the future of coworking is increasingly being explored as part of academic and industry research, there has been limited focus on what it means for large corporate occupiers. The 2019 Rise of Flexible Workspace in the Corporate Sector Report (choir members only) aims to identify the drivers of and the barriers to – the use of flexible space and coworking by large corporate occupiers.

The report argues that coworking 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 Workplace Survey 2019, 14 percent of US respondents working for companies of 100 or more employees reported using coworking 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, the authors argue, citing the likes of Knotel, whose business model is geared entirely towards large corporates.

Despite this rising trend, approximately 40 percent of flexible space users would prefer to work from a conventional office. Comparison of the preference for traditional versus flexible space across industry sectors shows that 46 percent of those in consulting services would prefer to return to a traditional set-up, compared to 37 percent in financial services. Cesar Jeri, Digital Workplace Strategy Lead at Verizon comments, “a one-size-fits-all flexible workspace does not cut it. 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.”



The future of flexible office space

According to the report, 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 favoured individual memberships of coworking 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 coworking 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.

As Jane Clay, Principal and Design Director at Gensler highlights, “Our research suggests that the companies interviewed are all progressively moving away from this individual membership model and capitalising 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. This approach also has the added benefit of enabling large corporates to personalise 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 percent), real estate (36 percent) and consulting services (21 percent), amongst others. Companies interviewed include British Land, GSK, RBS, WeWork, Microsoft, Vodafone, HSBC and Verizon.

Images: Gensler