Putting the Lens on the Office Sector
As organisations return to their workplaces, will this be goodbye to the workplaces of old and hello to a new normal of re-imagined workplace spaces and protocols? Generator GM John Moffett examines.
Recently I participated on a panel discussion for RICS around workplace changes and challenges as New Zealand recovers from Covid, with a particular focus on co-working spaces and what changing preference for flexible working models mean for future demand.
The questions were thought provoking and prompted some heated debate among the team while I was preparing my answers. Discussion around the idea of the workplace being dead created some seriously strong reactions among the team.
One thing we all agreed on is that the idea of work is so much more than the job you do, and where, and how you work, plays an important part of that.
Given the relevancy of these questions to people beyond RCIS members (read: anyone that’s worked in an office) I thought I would share the questions and my thoughts.
Do you see a move to working from home as a challenge to the flexible workspace model or as being complimentary to it?
In short – complimentary. As a shared space provider, Generator has always seen and expected flexible working from our members and our varied suite of products supports this. Working from home is part of that, but we don’t see a long-term shift to businesses working from home permanently as a threat, or even the way many businesses will go.
Any change to ways of working needs to be done to provide better outcomes for the business and people in the business - improve culture, productivity and so on - not just a kneejerk to Covid-19.
What the Covid-19 lockdown helped to do was fast track flexible ways of working for businesses and industries that hadn’t really got their head, or systems around it yet.
For the most part, staff desire flexibility and in some senses the lockdown has given more power to workers to demand flexible working arrangements given the productivity of many businesses didn’t take a hit.
We are seeing businesses looking to reduce overheads post-Covid. A shift to working from home is one (extreme) way of doing it, but what we are seeing lots of is businesses looking to a hybrid way of working. This means you may have a team of 35 but only have 20 desks as there is a roster system of who is in and who is out of the office. This way of working is incredibly complimentary to the shared space model – as it means a business can consolidate space without losing any amenity.
Flexible workspace has been in expansion mode over recent years, do you see this trend accelerating with companies increasing their use of flexi space to supplement a smaller permanent HQ?
Totally! As mentioned above, shared space is a great way for businesses to downsize their HQ without amenities or location being compromised.
Over recent years, shared office space has really grown up. There are some of the old connotations of co-working being like the high school common room but what we offer at Generator attracts a huge cross-section of the New Zealand economy - from corporates, global enterprise clients to boutique consulting firms – and the mix is expanding all the time. The last three years has seen the concept of shared space or coworking really mature into a professional front for a business without all the costs associated of setting up an office.
We like to think that shared workspaces are for savvy businesses, who understand the value that a provider like Generator can add to their business. If you’re paying for an office it needs to be more than just bricks and mortar, it needs to work for you.
Do you see this growth occurring within CBD’s or do you think that more demand will come for space in the suburbs to give people a “local” base at which to meet?
Given where Generator is positioned in the market, it is best suited to the CBD. Generator is a city centre based business and members choose us because we provide a professional front in the best locations in the city and they want to be near their clients and all the amenities provided by a central city location.
Now, if people are coming into the office, they are doing so to be with the team. So, if the team is separated in satellite co-working spaces in the suburbs it loses that dynamic, they may as well be at home?
What are your views on office design as we look to a post covid work environment will a greater awareness of health issues turn back the clock on hot desking and greater intensification?
Hot-desking got a bad rap as a result of Covid, but at the level that Generator operates it’s not like there are multiple people a day using the desks. Each desk is booked and cleaned between uses.
Interestingly, our Hot Deskers were some of the first to return to Generator after lockdown – largely because they were missing the human connection.
There is certainly an increased focus on hygiene, and fortunately we are able to implement consistent standards across our sites.
In terms of design and greater intensification, I think the office will become more of a collaborative space where people come to connect so it’s unlikely we will see a return of the single office or cubicle style working.
Standard offices will need to think more like shared office spaces providing workers a variety of spaces to meet and collaborate.
While it seems therefore that working habits are changing and will continue to do so, would you agree that having staff coming together in a dynamic workspace to collaborate, share ideas, drive innovation productivity and culture will continue to underpin the need for office space in the future
100 % - That is the very idea that Generator is built on – a central space to connect, build relationships and share ideas. You may not need to be in an office all the time but to drive productivity and innovation a well-considered office space is the best place to do it.
We believe there is so much more to work than just the job you do.
As technology advances, soft skills are going to be increasingly important. It’s very difficult to learn those critical interpersonal skills at a distance - as a grad, can you imagine studying years for a degree just to be told you are going to be working from your kitchen table?
John Moffett is the General Manager of Generator