Co-Working and Flex Offices: permanent revolution

Cuckooz Nest, London. © Billy Bolton

More and more companies are relying on the services of Co-Working and Flex Office companies, to have flexibility in spaces and timing of contracts, and to delegate compliance with a multitude of regulations, also for the safety and wellbeing of workers. A substantial change in companies that foreshadows a revolutionary future for workspaces.

Chiara Bassi, Country Manager for Italy of WeWork, one of the world’s most important Flex Office firms, welcomed us – with all the proper measures of social distancing in place – to 4 Via Turati, the latest space opened in the Lombardy capital, and the fourth in Milan, operating since June; the other three will be opened in the coming months.

Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG, another major player in the field of flexible workspaces on an international level, spoke to us from his company’s Swiss headquarters. IWG hosts about 2.5 million works around the world in the buildings of its many famous brands: Regus, Spaces, Hq, Signature, No 18.

More companies and different needs for greater ability to adapt

“The needs of businesses are changing, as well as the type of company that is turning to coworking,” says Chiara Bassi. “Many enterprise customers (40% of our clientele), with over 1000 employees in the world, which were often the owners of the buildings in which they operated, have come to us with new requests in recent months. If a company had 50 employees, it sought an office with the same number of working positions; instead, today it wants an office with 20 positions, but with the possibility of access for the entire staff. A new form of flexibility, which we are able to offer because we have buildings that can be used 24 hours a day, with all services constantly available. This would be very hard, or very costly, to achieve in a corporate property.”

Verso un lavoro più mobile tra diverse sedi, anche nel mondoWeWork, via Vittor Pisani, Milano

Towards more mobile working in different locations, also in the world

“Life in the office has changed completely,” Mark Dixon agrees, “and we will probably never return to pre-Covid habits. One of the lasting outcomes of the pandemic will be the ability to work in different ways, in different places, facilitated by the progress of technology and the digital ecosystem. Companies are organizing the workforce in a new way, distributed in multiple satellite offices: more employees will work closer to home or will continue to operate in terms of home working. Our decentralized portfolio of offices in over 1100 towns and cities, urban and suburban, is responding well to this demand. And we are also receiving many requests from small-to-medium companies with headquarters in suburban areas or smaller towns.”

A demand for more flexible spaces and contracts

“Companies are asking us for the possibility of working in multiple locations. In Milan we have three buildings, for the moment, but in London, where we have 60, companies offer their employees the option of spending time in all these spaces, using their services, without distinctions,” continues the Country Manager for Italy of WeWork. “Before the pandemic this usage mode pertained to freelance professionals or startuppers. The large corporations tended to be much more settled. Contracts are also changing. Today you may need 20 workstations, and in a few months you may need 50, or vice versa, so rentals have to be flexible too; today you can reserve a space for just 6 months.” Working in the city center, in our country, is still a plus: “Decentralization is a failure, and I don’t think it will be feasible over the short term,” Chiara Bassi comments. “It means creating new centers, and these are processes that require many years.”

Regus – The News Building, London Bridge, LondraRegus – The News Building, London Bridge, Londra. © Thierry Cardineau Photography

Co-Working and Flex Office to reinforce the company experience

“Actually, at WeWork we are more about Flex Offices than Co-Working,” Bassi says. “The shared areas in our buildings do exist, but they are not large. We are a global platform of workspaces that welcomes companies of any size, without problems of compliance with regulations.”
On the issue of regulations, which have multiplied by leaps and bounds, Chiara Bassi tells us that conversations with the HR managers of client companies have revealed that in the last four months, from the 100% volume of intra-company communication, the portion of messages related to Covid accounted for 60%; prior to the emergency, it was 5%. “This burden of compliance has cut into community communication and has weakened the sense of belonging. If we fail to recreate the corporate culture, which also is a matter of spaces, there will definitely be a loss of control of organizational factors and processes.

“People have enjoyed working from home, along with the luxury of not having to commute,” says Mark Dixon of IWG, “but now there is a need to get back to the office, to share ideas and projects with colleagues, to have meetings and engage in teamwork. We’ve gotten rather tired of video calls, and of welcoming work contacts into our living rooms or bedrooms. We need to get back to a renewed concept of normality that does not penalize project coordination and creativity in companies, the true motor of business.”

It is no longer about square meters, but about performance and services

“Inside IWG,” Dixon concludes, “we have organized the layout of all the spaces to guarantee social distancing, reorganizing flows, reducing points of contact and creating outdoor spaces. And we are working on new concepts to respond to a growing demand, all over the world, for flexible, safe, secure spaces.”  

“Square meters no longer make the difference; now it is a matter of performance and services,” Bassi concludes, “because people spend only the necessary time at a desk, and much of the rest in meeting rooms and lounges. After the pandemic we will have a greater need for spaces where we can be alone, where we feel good, in quality spaces; shared spaces, if properly reorganized, can provide a convincing response to this need.”

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