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The Potential of Flexible Offices for Large Organizations

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During the pandemic, many organizations learned that employees valued the experience they were able to have while working from home. However, as the pandemic begins to shift, and teams are able to go back into the physical office, we’re learning how necessary it is to have a space for in-person collaboration and connection.

While flexible schedules give employees the opportunity to work when and where they choose and provide employers with the opportunity to save money and remain competitive, there are other ways large organizations can modify their workplace to create flexible spaces that unlock new potential while inviting employees back to the office.

Co-Working at a Large Scale

Co-working first started out as a space for small teams and startups that weren’t quite ready to commit to a long-term, large office space. Today, the uncertainty of office space post-pandemic has encouraged large organizations to utilize the concept of co-working as a form of flexible space to either replace or complement their traditional office layout.

If you define a flexible office as a space that can be easily reconfigured, adjusted, or relocated to meet the changing needs of an organization’s workforce, co-working is the most extreme example of flexible space. 

By its original definition and use case, co-working is a shared, temporary office space hosted by a co-working provider. Instead of signing a lease, organizations can pay a subscription fee for the space, giving their employees access to shared desks, private offices, conference rooms, and more. With co-working spaces spread across the county and the world, the ability to work whenever, wherever is made possible. It’s this type of flexibility that has led to large companies relying on co-working. 

For example, instead of needing to open a new permanent office in a new market, embracing co-working space can offer a middle ground for organizations to provide a physical office without the long-term commitments and upfront expenses. It can also be an especially powerful employee benefit for those employees who don’t want to be tied down to a single location. 

However, before an organization moves towards co-working at a large scale as a viable solution, there are a few challenges that need to be addressed. Traditional office space controlled by the organization can easily accommodate infrastructure requirements, security measures, and HR needs. Co-working space controlled by a third party, however, may not be able to do so. These concerns can be addressed with many co-working providers but may come at a higher cost and require a longer time frame.

With co-working providing so much potential in the realm of flexible office space, it’s no wonder Cushman & Wakefield decided to make a $150 million investment in WeWork at the end of 2021. There were some who considered co-working to be a fad at first, but now that large organizations are utilizing it as a key part of their real estate strategy it appears that it’s here to stay. it’s also changing the way many organizations are looking at their existing workplace design to accommodate employee needs.

Earlier this year, DoorDash shared news about the creation of their own flexible workplace model to match their employee feedback around optimizing their productivity to the flexibility of their work/life balance. Within this working model, DoorDash is “reimagining their existing offices to create a collaborative in-person experience that meets the needs of their in-person, hybrid, and remote teams’ needs.

Accommodate a Hybrid Workforce

The idea of a hybrid workforce has been around for some time but really began to gain popularity due to the impacts of COVID-19. Just like co-working, large organizations have quickly started to accommodate a flexible workforce post-pandemic.

A 2022 Gallup poll found that 59% of surveyed employees preferred a hybrid work environment that allowed for some remote work and some in-office work. In contrast, 32% preferred to work entirely remotely and only 9% preferred to return to the office full-time. With so many employees preferring the hybrid option, there is an opportunity for organizations to use flexible office space or create one of their own to satisfy their employees and potentially save money on their real estate costs.

The primary way organizations are beginning to accommodate a hybrid workforce is through the adoption of desk hoteling or hot desking. Instead of each employee having their own designated desk that is left empty the majority of the time, these systems use a space-sharing model and allow employees to work from any desk on the days they work from the office. This way an employee can have a physical desk in the office when they need it, but it’s not going to waste when they don’t.

To facilitate this type of arrangement, an organization may find it useful to implement space utilization sensors and begin gathering data on how the office space is actually being used. By better understanding not only how often a desk is used but for how long, at what times of the day, and in what situations, organizations can arm themselves with facts in the decision-making process rather than relying on guesswork. The space optimization data provided by utilization sensors can paint a detailed picture of how the work environment is being used by employees and, in turn, influence future workplace modifications that better enable flexibility.

While this type of flexible arrangement is obviously beneficial to employees, it can also be beneficial to the organizations that adopt it. From a financial perspective, accommodating a hybrid workforce in this way can allow organizations to reduce their office footprint and save on annual real estate expenses. If not all employees will be in the office at the same time, a smaller office space will suffice. From a non-financial perspective, offering a hybrid work option is increasingly becoming a useful employee recruitment and retainment tool. 

Essentially, accommodating a hybrid workforce gives organizations the best of both worlds and allows their workplace to move towards being in a Permanently Flexible™ state.

Don’t Buy Furniture

Another piece of the puzzle for organizations wishing to adopt a flexible office environment is frequently changing the office layout and furniture to adapt to changing employee preferences and needs. In order to do this, an organization should not own its own furniture.

Many office managers are not well equipped to adopt a flex work environment for a number of reasons, furniture being one of them. Owning furniture has become an outdated and unnecessary practice for the majority of organizations occupying office space today. Since most furniture is not specialized equipment or particularly special, it quickly becomes more of a liability than an asset. Not only is the organization stuck with the furniture they purchase, but then has to move that furniture every time it relocates.

Kay Sargent, Director of WorkPlace at HOK, says now is the time for organizations to be strongly considering moving away from furniture ownership. “With the fluidity of the world that we are living in today, people need to assess what they need to own versus what they need to have access to,” she said. “Why do you want to own anything that ties you down or locks you in, especially furniture?”

To avoid being tied down by furniture, organizations can consider shifting to a Furniture-as-a-Service (FaaS) model. For instance, CORT Furniture Rental offers FaaS as a way to allow organizations to gain access to the best furniture possible while also increasing flexibility and cost optimization. Furniture can be added, removed, or reconfigured to better accommodate changing needs within the workspace. FaaS has been used by organizations for a variety of purposes, ranging from outfitting temporary space during an office remodel to fully furnishing a permanent space in the most flexible way possible. 

If flexibility is the goal, not being tied down with furniture ownership is a good way to get there. Taking all of these factors into account, it’s clear that flexible office space can be a great option in a variety of circumstances. For organizations wishing to remain competitive employers, save on real estate costs and keep up with the rapidly-evolving modern world, unlocking the potential of flexible office space is a great way to accomplish those goals and more. 

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