No flex space conversation can be had without mentioning WeWork, so let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. “WeWork defined the category with a very compelling brand.” That rare, positive opinion of the embattled co-working giant comes from Brian Harrington, Chief Experience Officer at Hana, a subsidiary of CBRE, and one of the architects for the company’s new flex solution. WeWork’s compelling brand revolved around supporting a more decentralized workforce with hotdesks and a focus on the entrepreneurial community. “We have a slightly different view on community,” Brian explained. “In our research what we heard is that all the aspects of community, whether it is events or people selling to the members, can be overbearing. We believe in community when you want it.”
As CBRE looks to find ways to empower its clientele, which consists of many of the world’s largest office occupiers, they had to determine how best to incorporate the growing need for flex space into their offering. They spent a year and a half researching their customers’ needs and realized that flex space should be flexible in what types of services it can provide, not just what desk you can sit in. This led them to them to design their first flex office in Dallas with a number of different space options. They have team suites that can be utilized by companies that need more than just one-off desks, dedicated conference spaces that can be used by everyone in the building or even the surrounding community and a co-working option that is designed “for head-down work.” They even have a dedicated quiet section for those like me who can’t help but listen in on their neighbors/ phone conversations.
Another takeaway from their studies is that these larger occupiers, who have a vast amount of experience in designing offices, had a very pragmatic approach to what they wanted from a flex space. “Traditional players spend a lot of time designing the front of the house, the entrance and lounge areas—it’s sexy—with little attention to the back of the house which are typically suites and offices,” Brian said. “The odd thing is that is where people spend most of their time. While our clients wanted beautiful spaces they were also very concerned about things like acoustics, power outlets, personalizable workspaces and comfortable chairs.”
From the landlords that they service, CBRE and Hana learned that transparency was a part of the flex space arrangement that most providers lacked. Brian said that many of the top landlords preferred to rent to established companies that might want to lease some of their other properties as well. The current co-working model gives them very little understanding of who is leasing space and even less access to them.
One thing that Brian stressed was that while tech was an important part of the experience, it alone would not be enough to make a truly hospitable workspace. From the inception Hana employees have been working around a service ethos based on the Japanese concept of omotenashi. The Japanese have adopted a view of hospitality that revolves around transparency as can be seen in a traditional tea ceremony where every part of the process is done in front of the guest. True omotenashi should warmly welcome guests and anticipate their needs in order to give the best experience. “Tech is important,” Brian said, “but it alone isn’t going to make a memorable experience, we have to raise the service level.”
Even the company itself is meant to be an open book. Hana operates as a subsidiary of CBRE in order to eliminate any conflicts of interest. Brian and his team often talk about how they are set up to work with “any types of clients,” meaning that they can provide their service to any landlord or manager, whether or not they are a customer of CBRE.
Hana represents a new arm of CBRE’s services that could end up becoming a major player in the flex leasing space. Just with their existing relationships alone, their position as the biggest commercial brokerage in the world would put them in a position to jump to a leading position in the flex space industry. Their willingness to work with others and their culture of transparency could set them up to get even bigger than that. The second U.S. Hana space is opening in Irvine soon and if the flexibility and hospitality that they strive to provide is well received we might see a lot more omotenashi coming to offices in the near future.