How technology is fuelling the rise of flexible office space

As new digital tools and platforms transform traditional ways of working, they’re changing how companies think about - and use - their office space

July 31, 2019

For employees in increasingly tech-enabled offices, the idea of spending every working day sitting at the same desk is rapidly becoming outdated.

From workplace apps to improved video conferencing, digital tools that help teams collaborate online are facilitating a rise in flexible and remote working. Meanwhile, inside offices the growing use of embedded technology is ushering in a similarly flexible approach to floor space.

Sensors that track motion can log when desks, meeting rooms or communal areas are occupied, helping employers implement hot-desking and activity-based flexible work areas.

“Technology is activating a more fluid workspace in a trend that is set for continued growth,” says Ben Munn, Managing Director, Flex Space at JLL.

“Insight into exactly how businesses are utilising space is an important tool for both occupiers and flex space providers to shape their space strategy. Smart sensors can help companies understand the flow of staff and plan the use of flexible workspace, in turn optimising workplace design and ultimately, productivity.”

For landlords, sensors can deliver crucial insights into how their spaces can be optimised for particular tenants, improving retention rates as well as attracting new occupiers.

“With smart technology that tracks when spaces are in use, landlords are better able to monetize their portfolio,” says Akshay Thakur, Regional Director, Smart Buildings Programme, JLL. For example, insight into how a particular company uses private, communal and meeting areas could help a building owner or flex space provider redevelop their space, whether within an office or across a portfolio.

A smarter, more flexible world

Amid the rise of smart homes and on-demand apps, employees increasingly expect a similarly connected experience at work.

As proptech gains ground, it’s helping to facilitate communication between teams and customise office space according to individual needs and preferences as companies aim to boost productivity and employee engagement.      

Furthermore, improved connectivity such as faster WiFi and VPNs that allow employees to work remotely in a secure way are setting the stage for more companies to implement flexible working - and flexible space.

Meanwhile, incoming 5G ultra-high-speed internet in the next several years might facilitate the rise of augmented-reality video conferences or AI-powered hot-desk assignments that would make it even easier for employees to work from anywhere.

Yet a lot of behind-the-scenes technology network developments will be needed first. As Thakur says: “5G adoption is dependent on a number of factors including network providers and devices such as phones, tablets and computers being 5G-enabled.”

Flex space finders

Outside of a company’s existing workplaces, new platforms are making it easier for companies to find flexible space too.

Hubble allows tenants to search for office space by the size of their team, with filters for facilities such as breakout spaces or phone booths, and amenities like a gym, event space or childcare. On ShareMyOffice, companies can rent out their extra desks or find both serviced and unfurnished spaces.

“A key aspect of the proptech trend are platforms enabling companies to find flexible space in the first place,” says Munn. “This is increasingly critical for talent retention, as more people expect to be able to work flexibly and across locations.”

Down the line, Munn predicts that such platforms will allow companies to transact the flexible space of their choice, making the shift to flexible working even smoother.

Limitations to flex

While the market for flexible space is growing rapidly – JLL predicts that in Europe, it will grow by an average of 25 to 30 percent a year in the next five years, adding up to 7 million square meters of flexible office space - some companies with traditional business cultures remain cautious about bringing in new ways of working and the tech that will enable it.

 “Many corporates with legacy real estate are still wondering if there is a case for offering the freedom of flex space and flexible working,” says Munn.

And without clear guidance on the most beneficial metrics to track, a major challenge is knowing which technologies to implement. The data security of various proptech solutions is one significant barrier to adoption for large corporations with their own privacy and IT security protocols that may not integrate securely with third-party tech.

“There are many proptech providers, but also a conservative buyer market,” says Thakur. “For companies, it is often difficult to be certain if by deploying such technology, they are improving their workplace experience, or creating problems.”

To attract increasingly tech-reliant workforces, landlords and developers could deploy a building’s proptech in a modular technology stack he adds. This would provide a secure and scalable technology infrastructure that could be modified by tenants to achieve their objectives.

Future flexing

As technology advances, the workplace becomes ever more digital and more companies adapt to new ways of working, demand for flexible space is likely to grow further, says Munn.

“The more data you have on how employees and tenants are using your space, the more flexible space you want,” he says. “Ultimately, proptech can offer landlords and flexible space providers a data-driven strategy around the space they need, and the facilities best for each office, from its breakout spaces to the type of lunch deliveries and laundry services.”

With workspace increasingly optimised for its users, people will be more equipped than ever to get on with their day jobs - wherever they may be working from. 

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