This blog was first published in Dutch on Smart WP
In this new era of “The Office,” companies and workers are redefining what an office means for them. What an office means for their business, as well as for the people who will be using the space, is changing. Coworking spaces have proven to be a great solution for customers to rediscover what their definition of an office is and help provide that for them. Though coworking spaces, too, have had to make accommodations for the new regulations and office requirements in a post-COVID world, their very natures have made them more resilient and adaptable to the changes. But how well are corporates faring and adapting, and what can be done to help them and coworking spaces better define what they want and need from their office space which, by necessity, has and will change?
According to Kitty Bons from Zapfloor, a workplace management software tool for coworking spaces, corporates, and serviced offices alike, “one of the biggest projects of the last year and of the upcoming year has been looking into workspace management challenges in more corporate environments. Because of the COVID crisis, corporate environments are now finally waking up to see that maybe what they are providing in the office landscape is maybe not what is needed. Neither from a management perspective nor from an employee experience perspective. Due to the health crisis, corporates have been forced to look at the office in a different and smarter way.” But, as Kitty explains, it’s not as simple as copying what they think works for coworking spaces. They have had to assess the differences and similarities between coworking spaces and corporate office environments because the challenges and stakeholders are quite different. This in turn has opened up a whole new revenue stream.
“Corporates,” says Kitty Bons, “have been faced with the practical challenges of social distancing as well as the management challenge of how we can provide those environments where people can come to the office but be safe.” Whether that’s ventilation, social distancing, or specific routes throughout the building (to prevent people from running into each other all the time.) These are the real practical challenges. Along with this comes staffing challenges: which teams are going to work in which part of the building. Who is going to manage those teams?
Kitty explains that “while coworking spaces have naturally been looking at these issues when setting up their contracts (making up their service offerings towards their customers; looking at the customer experience), corporates are also now considering what kind of space what team needs.” For example, where is interdisciplinary work done so teams can combine? How can we use the space we’ve got in the most efficient way? And who should oversee this because this also became an HR challenge? “So yeah,” continues Kitty, “a lot of things that coworking space managers almost do intuitively, are now brought into those larger corporate buildings as well.”
Jeannine van der Linden, Founder of De Kamer, agrees and comments on this trend: “In a period of uncertainty, what becomes clear, both to us and also to the coworkers, is – what is it they need from an office space? Because what you need from an office space has just been an assumed received truth up until it was placed under pressure. And at that point, I think a lot of people are rethinking, ‘What is that for, exactly?’ There are a lot of important reasons to have a home (an actual physical place) for your business, but whether the reason to have that home is so that you and your team could sit at a desk is being relooked at every day.”
Although corporates have a wealth of resources at their disposal, Kitty warns that adapting to this new landscape isn’t that simple. She believes that although corporates are keen on this new challenge because they see the benefits now very clearly, “they underestimate the knowledge and experience that goes into running a shared space.”
It takes a lot of effort and true consideration of the parameters to smoothly run an office space today, both from a corporate and coworking perspective. It can be tedious and annoying to go through all the options and questions posed by management platforms such as Zapfloor, however Jeannine believes it offers businesses an invaluable opportunity. “It was like it was a free coaching program,” Jeannine. “You have to put all that in an automated system and that means you have to think about it.”
Kitty explains. “Defining your office in numbers, leads people to kind of an existential exercise where they have to say, ’Okay, what are we offering? And what are the limits of my building?’ While defining those parameters, you are offering an exercise that usually annoys people but that is important when running a business.”
This crucial part is what Kitty believes is part of the underestimation of the sector: “You have not clearly defined what you want to achieve? Who you want to attract? How many chairs there are exactly that people can use at the same time, within the social distancing rule or considering productivity? Well, when you don’t know what you have in your shop, it’s hard to run the shop.”
In closing, we ask what advice they had for corporates and coworking spaces that are reassessing their office management systems. One of the biggest misconceptions Kitty often notices are coworking spaces or corporates that, when they start to tackle the issue of managing their workspace, think they already know exactly what their coworkers want. “I always advise them,” she says, “as follows: “Okay, you have a setup, let’s start with that. Then we’ll see what feedback is coming in.” And there are multiple ways to collect the feedback from surveys to suggestion boxes, to events at the office and feedback collected by staff on site.“
Jeannine feels that a golden opportunity to learn is being missed: “I think there are some things that coworking spaces do really, really well. And I think that on the corporate side, they do certain things really, well. One of the things that frustrate me greatly is that we don’t respect one another’s strengths enough to talk to each other; to learn from each other. And looking at it from your client’s perspective, if we talk to each other and work from our strengths, I think that we would find that our coworkers would be a lot happier.”