Usually, when making predictions about the future, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be completely wrong. We can’t all be Nostradamus. In many odd cases, though, future events are telegraphed early through subtle changes that snowball. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what these events are in today’s workspace sector and, taking that to its natural conclusion, what that means for the office of the future.
These are nine of our most confident predictions about what future office spaces will look, feel, and operate like. Read on for a taste of the future of work.
The work near home movement grows
We’ve talked a lot about location strategy in the office market recently, and our first prediction is focused on locational positioning. Over recent years, and particularly during the events of 2020, there’s been a surge in interest in the concept of ‘work near home’ as a format of working.
You can think of the work near home movement sitting somewhere in between traditional thinking (that we all should be in a central office to be productive) and the work from home movement (that the positives of working from home outweigh the negatives). It centres around the idea that you can work from home for the most part and use local flexible workspaces on-demand, whether you need a break from your home office or you have an important conference call.
But for the work near home movement to grow, there needs to be more workspaces near to people’s homes in towns, suburbs, and rural areas, rather than all being concentrated in cities. This is where we see the subtle change that foreshadows the future. Already, shops are being turned into offices at a rapid rate, thanks to the declining importance of brick-and-mortar retail and the growing interest in flexible workspaces.
We expect to see this trend continues, with a higher proportion of flexible workspaces being opened in smaller population centres in the future, facilitating wider uptake of the work near home philosophy.
Differing office formats
Almost as a direct result of our first prediction above, we also expect to see much more variety in the format of flexible workspaces as they pop up in a broader range of locations. Watch this short video for more information on the three main formats we expect to see…
Years ago, supermarkets realised that adapting the format of their stores into several form factors allowed them to more accurately target different consumer needs depending on location. Born from this realisation were the supermarket formats we’re all now used to – best represented by Tesco’s Express, Metro, Superstore, and Extra model.
We think that this same approach will be adopted by flexible office operators, with several main formats of office emerging in different areas:
- In small towns and well-connected suburban areas, we might start to see ‘Express’-style offices that are small-format, easy to access, and community-focused.
- In areas with larger business clusters, specifically those areas with a high concentration of businesses in one industry, we might see what we call the ‘Club’ format, targeting customers who want a specialised workspace that’s built for their needs.
- In large cities and urban cores, we’d continue to see the already established workspaces, which would operate as a ‘Hub’ format, designed for whole-day working and equipped with excellent facilities.
Watch this short video for more information…
Greater specialisation of workspace operators
Many sources continue to predict rapid growth in the flexible workspace and coworking sectors over the coming years, and with that growth comes increased competition. How do you deal with competition as an operator? Set yourself apart.
With this in mind, we think it’s incredibly likely that more and more operators will begin to take brand differentiation more seriously and put in the work to find themselves a proper gap in the market. There are plenty of ways to differentiate yourself from the rest of the competition, from catering for businesses in a specific sector to offering innovative and useful features and amenities.
It’s clear from surveying the market, even in its current form, that brand differentiation and specialisation of operators is a growing trend. We expect to see it become more and more important. What’s best about this prediction is that it benefits both operators and customers – operators that effectively differentiate themselves have a higher chance of thriving, while customers are provided with more options and can find a better fit for their specific needs.
It’s also important to note that strategic alliances between operators and high-profile investors are likely to fuel the growth of unique offerings in the flexible workspace sector. We’ve seen a partnership between Fora and Selfridges confirmed in 2020 and, more recently, news has broken that CBRE have acquired a 35% stake in Industrious. These ‘equity and expertise’ partnerships could lead to more exciting developments for the operators receiving investment, essentially funding further innovation.
Better office quality
It’s not just specialisation that can set you apart in a growing sector, though. As in all markets, increased competition generally leads to improvements in the baseline quality expected of all products/services in the market.
As the number of flexible office operators continues to grow, we expect to see a ‘race to the top’, with operators striving to improve the quality of their workspaces to get an edge over the competition. Already, you can see the focus on quality being demonstrated by operators like Bruntwood, who are beginning to prioritise wellbeing and placemaking to create spaces that stand out and provide great experiences to users.
We might even see quality standards and scores becoming formalised in the workspace sector, as they already are in the food service sector. Existing standards like the WiredScore and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) index can be applied to workspaces to allow customers to make informed decisions based on quantitative data benchmarks.
The emergence of hot offices
By now, hot desks are firmly rooted into cultural consciousness. But what about hot offices? It’s clear that flexibility is becoming more important for businesses, and that’s especially true after the events of last year. Nobody wants to be tied in to a five-year lease without knowing what’s around the corner, and the concept of hot offices solves this problem for them.
Hot offices are a simple concept – part office, part hot desk. Instead of having to commit to a single space for a fixed length of time, hot offices would allow you to get all of the benefits of hot desking on a larger scale. That includes:
- Flexibility in how much you use the office, without sunk costs
- The ability to switch offices whenever you want, with minimal uprooting costs
- A more relaxed working environment, where community is encouraged
The rise of the flexible workspace industry has already shown us that there’s massive demand for improved flexibility, and hot offices take this idea to its logical conclusion. When you need an office, you have one. When you don’t, you don’t.
Self-service automated offices
Among many other analysts, McKinsey have predicted that automation is set to continue to grow into the future and minimise the need for human labour across practically all sectors. It would be naïve to think the flexible workspace sector would be any different.
But rather than thinking of it as something to fear, we have an optimistic take on the impact automation will have on the way offices work. And, in fact, you can already see some forward-thinking operators like IncuHive adopting the principles that will grow into a more automated future, including:
- No on-site staff
- Remote tours for potential customers
- Digitally-signed leases and contracts
- Remotely print access keycards directly to on-site printers
Software platforms like Metrikus can help operators to efficiently manage automated offices, too, by providing insights into space utilisation, maintenance requirements, and even details like temperature and CO2 levels.
This push towards streamlining regular office processes with the power of new technology has plenty of benefits for both operators and customers. Operators get to save money on staffing costs and be more reactive, customers get quick and easy access to workspaces without having to wait to be served. Everyone likes a win-win situation.
Activity-based working is a concept that different types of workspace are best suited to different types of work, and that providing a range of workspace formats within a flexible office helps users to be more productive.
It’s already taken off as a concept in several other countries, and we expect to see the principles of activity-based working reach UK shores in a meaningful way in the near-future. What would it look like in practice?
Instead of focusing on just providing run-of-the-mill flexible office and hot desk facilities, operators could diversify their offering to include conference caves, casual working areas, quiet zones, and more. That gives users of the space the choice of where they want to work, depending on the task that they’re tackling at any point in time.
Not only do we see activity-based working taking off in practicality, we also think it’ll be central in shaping the future of placemaking in workspaces.
Service-isation of offices
Finally, we expect to see the line between hospitality and workspace continue to blur, as the ‘service-isation’ of office spaces marches on. It’s more common than not, now, that sophisticated flexible workspaces are packed with amenities, whether that’s on-site cafes and bars, gyms, showers, or something else entirely.
While we don’t necessarily expect this trend to continue all the way through to the point where you can sleep in a flexible workspace, it’s likely that more and more services will be rolled into their offering.
It seems like a smart move, too. Why not expand your services to become a one-stop shop? It’s arguably a good thing for customers, who get to be more productive because everything they need for the day is under one roof. It’s also good for operators who can generate extra revenue from new services, allowing them to grow quicker. Soon enough, your office might be much more than an office.
Embrace the future of the office
No one can be 100% about what the future holds, but we’re fairly confident in these predictions and think that the writing is already largely on the wall. But how do you, as an operator, make changes to prepare for this future? How can you grow with office space trends?
Spaces To Places offers commercial research, placemaking, and marketing services that can give you insights into growing trends, the ability to adapt to them, and a voice to shout about them with. We’re passionate about helping to realise the future of offices so, if you want to get ahead of your competitors and prepare for what’s coming, get in touch with us today.