Is the future of office space flexible?

We caught up with Will Tattersall, Head of Sales at Canvas Offices to get some insights into the increasing appeal of flexible office solutions across the industries that make up UK PLC.

Related topics:  Landlords,  Commercial,  Office
Property | Reporter
13th July 2023
Office 669

What is fuelling the demand for flexible office space?

With the events of the last two years, including a global pandemic, as well as the rise of the hybrid / WFH model, there’s been a big shift when it comes to how businesses are approaching office space.

With many new ventures flourishing, so must the size of their teams to meet client and customer demands. At the other end of the spectrum, some larger companies are either downsizing or thinking about how they utilise their existing office space more creatively, in order to remain competitive and cost-effective.

This has been the advantage of the flexible office space industry. The management teams of all these companies have been focussed on growth and don’t want to allocate their valuable time to the micro details that an office move can throw up, such as creating the perfect staff environment through aesthetics and design.

Signing a service agreement with a flexible office space provider where everything is covered and ready to go is an attractive proposition. Time is money after all, so businesses are happy to outsource their concerns to experts who can advise them and provide a solution. That’s why the industry is seeing an uptake of service agreements. It’s because it’s our business to create enticing spaces that businesses and their employees will want to stay in

It's not just start-ups and SMEs demanding flexible office space either. Many large companies, especially within the tech industry, are downsizing because of the current state of the global economy. A survey by Knight Frank recently found that half of the world's biggest companies are planning to downsize because of the continued popularity of hybrid working, with 31% implementing an "office-first" approach.

Is the WFH era over and, if so, how does this impact office design?

Working from home in some shape or form is here to stay and it’s a big topic that people are talking about. As a service provider, it’s our duty to embrace it and help companies navigate how they set up their space and maximise how it’s utilised. It’s about creating an office solution that provides companies and employees with everything they need, whether at work or logging in from home.

Many companies have embraced a hybrid culture where employees are working three of four days in the office and the rest at home. This is why flexible office space makes sense. Coming to the office creates opportunities for shared learning, team building, impromptu moments of clarity and the solidifying of a company’s culture and values. It’s important, however, to have the right setup for these elements to thrive.

An office now needs to be a destination where people want to work; where they feel comfortable and can be inspired. It’s about creating a home from home. That means the creation of intimate workspaces with access to desired amenities. People want fresh air and natural light.

They want areas to focus, places to break-out and grab a coffee, or even just to have a different setting as they work from their laptops. It sounds like an advert, but it’s what companies of all sizes expect us to deliver.

Those providers experiencing success are those that are listening to their clients, understand what they’re trying to achieve, and know how to adapt to meet their individual needs. Those with a blanket “one size fits all” approach may struggle going forward. As flexible officer providers, we expect and welcome conversations with clients about unconventional and bespoke layouts. It shows they’re engaged, and we pride ourselves on our ability to deliver.

The buildings themselves are also becoming a more important decision-maker. Those with a seamless blend of clean modern design, stitched with authentic characterful elements, are often where people feel most connected and where they can do their best work. Spaces and connections are something we always factor in.

Also, it’s important to understand that many employees want to work in an office because there are fewer distractions and it’s a lot less isolating. Human beings are social animals, after all!

It's not all about office design. Where a building is situated is a key consideration, not just for getting employees to and from work, but also for attracting and retaining talent. Ideally, offices need to be near strong transport links, and in neighbourhoods surrounded by local bars, restaurants, and coffee shops so staff can enjoy regular Thursday night drinks or take key clients out for lunch or dinner. Such activities play an important role in building relationships.

Is sustainability a key consideration for businesses looking to take up office space, and how open are office space providers in meeting such demands? 

Definitely. Companies nowadays recognise the value of being socially responsible. It’s not only the right thing to do but it’s also good for business. Employees, especially those just entering the workforce, want to work for companies that align with their own personal values.

Not long ago, the IBM Institute for Business Value found that 70% of employees and job seekers believe a sustainability programme makes an employer more appealing, while 44% of executives consider their company’s climate initiatives to be an effective tool for recruitment and retention.

This is not to mention that the companies who are embracing CSR want to demonstrate to their stakeholders how they’re greening their operations. That means doing business with like-minded organisations.

That is why some flexible office space providers are choosing to renovate old buildings rather than demolish them, which results in the harmful release of pollutants and carbon. As an industry, we are also responding to the green agenda, with everything from smart meters and LED lighting triggered by motion sensors to recycling facilities and roof gardens. Canvas has even gone paper free in our offices, and we utilise a lot of high-quality, reclaimed furniture where possible.

You wouldn’t know it, but it’s there. Also, let’s not forget that landlords have to reduce their environmental impact by law. With the current EPC regulations in force, all rental properties need to demonstrate they’re energy-efficient, or they cannot be let, and the owners will be liable to a huge fine.

How important has the influx of international companies taking flex space in the UK been?

Anyone taking space in our sector is important, but it’s true to say that foreign investment is a significant revenue stream. There’s currently a lot of interest in London’s commercial property from the USA, Australia, and the Middle East, especially the UAE.

Remember that a presence in the UK’s capital means most businesses can punch well above their weight in the national and international sphere. London’s reputation as a global leader in business and finance makes it a top destination for professionals and the best companies from all over the world.

Smart leaders understand that, by operating here, they secure themselves a competitive advantage, whether that’s hiring great talent or rubbing shoulders with the biggest and most successful companies.

In terms of our European neighbours, Brexit and high-interest rates have dampened uptake somewhat, but not significantly, and nowhere near the doom-laden predictions that so many in the industry were making just a few years ago.

The reality is that the flexible office space industry has a bright future ahead of it, thanks to client companies both foreign and domestic. For operators though, it must be said that the industry is going to become increasingly competitive, and we should expect to see quality and client servicing standards continue to rise even further, which is great news for the UK’s business community.

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