We should give office workers the freedom to work flexibly

As Albert Einstein said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” This is more true than ever as we navigate through the worst pandemic the world has seen in 100 years.

Steve Jude

Through working in the travel industry for 13 years, with Tui, British Airways and Avis, I saw the industry change and evolve drastically and fast. The emergence of internet players such as lastminute.com, Priceline and Expedia meant that customers had an alternative to booking inflexible travel packages with a high-street travel agent.

The new technology enabled travellers to book the individual elements of their itinerary online in exactly the way they wanted them. This forced a revolution in the whole sector, as customers were no longer willing to buy packages that did not fit their exact requirements.

As with travel, the leasehold office sector will have to change to meet the new demands of its customers.

JLL has predicted that in 2030, the office market will be split between 70% traditional leases and 30% flexible arrangements. Pre-Covid, this was a huge benchmark to work towards.

However, with the enforced homeworking policy and many companies already introducing a permanent flex policy post-Covid, surely these ratios must have changed? Survey after survey shows that some people want to come into the office every day, some people want to come into the office for a few days a week and some people do not want to go to the office at all.

Choosing where to work

The only way for companies to deal with this is to either force employees to do something they do not want to, or accept that employees should be allowed to manage the location where they work to suit what’s best for them.

Just as the demand for flexible travel did not herald the death of the travel industry, the widespread desire for flexible working will not lead to the death of the office. However, the sector will need to embrace the inevitable change that could flip the prediction of JLL to 70:30 in favour of flexible space.

We all know that working from home saves money for occupiers and employees, but what about innovation and collaboration? Companies need space for this – but not for an employee to send an email that could have easily been sent from home. They need spaces to preserve the magic that drives innovation and therefore wealth creation.

A smaller but central location in which to collaborate and brainstorm would be the solution for this, enabling companies to cut down square footage drastically by creating a collaborative space that is fit for purpose.

Some people will also want access to an office environment that is close to home. This is evident here at NewFlex, with the low vacancy rates in our suburban and regional centres. NewFlex centres on the outskirts of London in suburbs such as Uxbridge, while regional centres in areas such as Walsall and Horsham are selling strongly.

That 70:30 split is now the journey we are on at NewFlex as we introduce the ‘Hybrid Office’ model. This model offers companies the opportunity to combine homeworking, a central but smaller office and a number of regional/suburban hubs. It is these three components that make up the office.

Reconfiguring the HQ

As an experienced flexible office operator for more than 25 years, NewFlex will manage the smaller central location – convert it into a flexible, Covid-19-secure workplace and reconfigure it for optimum use, whether for collaboration or solo working.

We will also analyse the home postcodes of employees and their commuting routes in order to open and manage smaller work hubs, closer to employees’ homes. Employees will then manage which location they wish to work from in a pattern created by them – just as they do when they curate their own holiday.

Long before Covid-19, I said that the world of work had changed forever. Collectively, the office industry must listen carefully to the requirements of its customers to ensure its continued prosperity – our future selves will thank us later.