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Future of work

Rent-a-desk trend boosts collaboration and networking


Bill Page

Chairman of the British Council for Office’s research committee

The new phenomenon of accessing workspace when and where we need it is taking off as the self-employed and large corporates embrace the concept of coworking.

The rise in self-employment, flexible working and the need for organisations to manage their office space more efficiently is fuelling growth in co-work spaces.

Average desk utilisation is only about 50%.

According to the British Council for Offices (BCO), there is a rising demand for short-term, affordable physical desks that are available at short notice and can be booked via digital apps. The BCO’s report ‘Space on Demand’ claims that by the end of 2017 nearly 1.2 million people worldwide will have worked in a co-working space.

This is still an extremely young industry but the BCO says there is huge potential in the UK because average desk utilisation is only about 50%. “We have had serviced offices for some time but the concept of co-working is new,” says Bill Page, Chairman of the BCO’s research committee. “There is a large untapped resource of space, office management and potential co-workers in UK businesses.”

He believes the co-working sector will expand quickly because people want to work more flexibly. “This is about enabling co-workers to make the most of their spatial proximity to each other for business and social reasons. This is also creating opportunities for networking and collaboration,” he says.

The rise in the freelance, or ‘gig’, economy is boosting the number of self-employed people that want to co-work, while larger corporates can see the benefits as they shrink the amount of office space they own.

Many large office buildings are becoming expensive, unsustainable and increasing under-occupied as employees work remotely and organisations decide to be more agile. It is now possible to find office space for more than one hundred employees at short notice using a space matchmaker app.

Some large companies, including banks and large accountancy firms, are using co-work spaces to attract and work with young tech entrepreneurs.

Modern facilities

Page says many co-working spaces are designed to appeal to millennials and Gen Z workers and will often feature stylish and contemporary furniture and the latest technology. Other spaces look like traditional corporate offices.

There is a choice of open-plan and closed-desk options and most spaces have catering facilities, a reception and soft seating for networking plus rooms for meetings, training, conferences and even office parties.

Some co-work spaces provide desks to freelancers and entrepreneurs for free in exchange for their knowledge and experience.

Apps fuelling growth

There are a growing number of space matchmaking apps linking un-booked office space to people looking for a desk.

One of the first space matchmaking apps to promote shared workspaces was New York-based, WeWork, which now has a current market valuation of $16bn. It has been joined by an array of technology platforms such as ShareDesk and LiquidSpace that act as workspace marketplaces.

Some apps ask for customer reviews and promote networking and collaboration between members.

“Other apps such as Coworkify and Nexudus provide space managers and can help landlords set up and run their own co-work spaces,” says Page. “Large providers such as Regus and WeWork can list their spaces while smaller landlords can rent out more traditional offices on a short-term basis.”

The challenges

Page admits that many landlords remain cynical about the potential of co-working because of the potential challenges.

These include the distractions of working in an open plan office and concerns over privacy and the confidentiality of data, commercial transactions and intellectual property.

“It is easy to be risk-averse when a new area is developing but we are encouraging landlords to embrace co-working and develop a strategy to make it a success,” he says. “The people and companies that book space in the short-term could be the long-term tenants of the future if the facilities are right.”

This fledgling industry also wants town planners to work with developers to encourage and promote the growth of co-work spaces. They could boost the local economy by retaining SMEs and start-ups within town centres.

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