06.07.2020 | 8 min read |
by Andrea Rácz
Peter Jirsák: Flexible spaces will need to respond to all the accelerated digital trends
Neither small nor large businesses are currently experiencing their best times. The corona crisis is affecting the whole world and every type of business is dealing with it in its own way. How are coworking spaces and flexible office solutions handling it? Peter Jirsák has given it some thought.
I’ve been with HubHub for almost one year now and my previous and quite long professional history is mostly connected with various roles in IT. However, prior to this role, I spent 3 years as an IT Director for HB Reavis and have worked with the HubHub team since the beginning of this project. So there has been ample time to start to understand what coworking is about and why flexibility and agility also matter in the real estate industry.
3 months ago, we were living in quite a different world. The economies of most countries were in historically the best ever condition, we had been experiencing continuous growth in most industries and the possibilities for travel were almost endless. And most people used office buildings as places to work from.
At HubHub we saw a similar picture. We were increasing the number of locations, welcoming more and more members and running an increasingly large number of activities for our members, communities and partners.
Somewhere in the middle of March everything changed. Our full spaces became ‘ghost towns’ within a week. Everybody was encouraged to stay home by officials and along with the underlying fear of infection it did the trick.
What many companies desired and had been trying to make happen for years happened in a few weeks. The vast majority of companies and people started to work from anywhere (usually from home) and to use digital collaboration tools to their full potential.
Then something amazing happened, which I feel I can say based on my historically given IT perspective. What many companies desired and had been trying to make happen for years happened in a few weeks. The vast majority of companies and people started to work from anywhere (usually from home) and to use digital collaboration tools to their full potential. Everybody became familiar with virtual conferences, shared documents, collaborative tools, etc. Most discussions became digital via Skype, Zoom, Teams or BlueJeans, in addition to many other tools. The amazing thing is that for years, even with all the possibilities at hand, only a limited number of companies and people really used these tools. Human interaction was always the first choice and the majority of companies struggled to get employees to embrace and use the ‘new’ tools.
Now we have come to July and we see a decreasing number of newly infected people in most countries and many governments are easing restrictions. Everybody is trying to get back to normal as much as possible.
On the other hand, everybody is anticipating the upcoming recession as markets, stocks and most predictions for economic growth are showing negative numbers. This has triggered a high level of uncertainty for most companies, who now must take another look at their strategies and cash flow has become the most repeated word.
And suddenly here come all the questions:
- What will be the new normal?
- What will be the effect on office building design?
- How many people will want to get back to the office?
- How will this influence the way we work?
- What if there is a similar situation in the future?
- What will be the new setup of furniture and technical tool requirements?
- How fast will the number of employees change and what will be the new patterns of collaboration?
- Will there be a strong acceleration of trends like AI and the automation of traditional jobs?
- What will be the consequences of it for jobs and offices?
Companies of all sizes had already started to ask themselves many of these questions some time ago. However, the acceleration of all trends is unprecedented and the answers are not easy to predict.
The only way to prepare is to make most operational aspects as flexible as possible in order to be able to react very fast and to tweak the details on the go. And this strategy does not gel very well with large long-term agreements.
For the real estate industry this seems to indicate the long expected shift towards flexible workspace offerings. They promise answers to most of the above-mentioned questions including much shorter notice periods, great expansion and reduction possibilities, inspirational communities and motivational dynamics of the working environment. The offices are serviced, so there is no need for additional costs like cleaning companies or receptionists. Modern F&B providers then add more allure to these places.
There is already a set of proven providers on the market and more and more are appearing with creative approaches not only to space design, but also with community programs, great events, connections to startups and innovative companies and educational programs.
So where is the catch?
There are many challenges that are very valid for flexible space providers as well. First of all, they are also usually a tenant in a building owned by someone else. Cooperation and mutual support between these two are becoming even more crucial than before, as they’ll need to set up, demonstrate and maintain improved health and safety standards.
Flexible spaces will need to respond to all the accelerated digital trends and provide up-to-date technologies that support the quickly changing collaboration habits of companies.
Flexible spaces will need to respond to all the accelerated digital trends and provide up-to-date technologies that support the quickly changing collaboration habits of companies. Also, the flexibility of the space setup is key as configurations might change more times in a day in order to support everything from focused work to agile standups and loud brainstorming. And at the same time, they must remain affordable as to not overstep the cashflow possibilities of their customers.
We at HubHub do see the opportunity on the market but we are fully aware of the challenges connected to it. The only approach that we can and want to take is to remain flexible and to accept that many of our previous business assumptions are not valid anymore. We are in touch with our existing and potential customers and continue to discuss their situation and needs with them. That helps us greatly to understand the new situation and upcoming trends and to steer product development accordingly.
I personally believe that flexible workspaces will be the office platform of the future and that the future is more than close.
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