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What Are Flexible Office Spaces, and Are They Right for You?

“Flexible office space” is an umbrella term that can refer to various workplace models, most of which involve multiple businesses operating in the same facility.

Frequently, flexible office spaces refer to coworking spaces. In these arrangements, freelancers and employees from different businesses or organizations work alongside each other in a shared workspace.

Executive suites are another similar form of flexible office space, but they’re usually more private than coworking spaces. While organizations still share certain common areas in an executive suite, they usually rent separate offices or even whole floors where they do the majority of their work. Individuals from different organizations don’t necessarily work alongside each other, but they share a building and certain amenities. Executive suites are also usually more expensive than coworking spaces.

Incubators and accelerators make up two more variations of flexible office spaces. These are similar to coworking spaces, but they are specifically geared toward helping companies grow. Incubators are more oriented toward startups, and accelerators help established businesses accelerate their growth.

In many cases, flexible office space overlaps with the concept known as activity-based working. Like activity-based working, flexible office spaces often forgo having a dedicated workstation for each employee. Instead, they offer a variety of spaces optimized for particular activities, and employees are free to move around as needed, working wherever they feel is best at a given time.

Sometimes, flexible office spaces may refer to hybrid workplaces, where employees work from home or on-site as needed. But while the hybrid or dynamic model gives employees more flexibility, that usually isn’t what someone means by a flexible office space.

While “flexible office space” is broad enough to refer to any of these workplace models, for our purposes, we’re going to focus on its main usage: shared co-working offices.

How do flexible office spaces work?

Flexible office spaces may sometimes be a joint venture between two or more organizations to share the same space for all employees to use communally. In such cases, the partnering organizations usually split the costs for rent, furniture, shared equipment, and anything else that all involved parties may use.

But more often, organizations or individuals seek out a dedicated flexible office space that they either lease or purchase a membership to. Dedicated flexible office spaces are becoming increasingly common, especially across Europe and the Midwestern US.

A number of organizations manage flexible offices for other organizations to use, including:

Many of these organizations have flexible offices around the US and throughout the world. Their locations usually include communal areas, individual workstations, meeting rooms, and other dedicated spaces. In this model, landlords typically provide not only the space itself to work in, but furniture, decor, and office equipment. They compete to offer pleasing work environments, incorporating amenities like cafés, kitchens, lounges, and space for recreational activities.

Rather than maintaining and equipping your own office, you simply acquire a membership, pay for a subscription, or sign a short-term lease to access the facilities these flexible office spaces have to offer.

Prices and structures vary with every organization. While some charge one flat fee to access everything, others charge individually for specific areas or use a tiered price structure based on your specific needs.

Why do organizations use flexible office spaces?

Initially, flexible office spaces were largely used by individual remote workers, freelancers, small start-ups, and burgeoning entrepreneurs. Coworking was (and still is) a cost-effective strategy to get off the ground. But it didn’t take long for established organizations to realize that flexible office spaces have a number of benefits to offer them as well.

Here’s why businesses use flexible office spaces.

Lower costs

When an organization leases an entire building, they’re paying the same amount regardless of whether they use all the space. And some of that space inevitably goes to waste. A few workstations may sit vacant all day, or a meeting room might only be occupied for a couple hours. Assigned desks only get used when the employee is actually on-site and working at that desk.

But with flexible office spaces, multiple organizations and individuals can use that same space much more efficiently. Since different people work different schedules, one person’s downtime is another person’s work time. In one day, the same workstations can be used by multiple people from multiple organizations, greatly increasing utilization of the space.

Other cost savings come in the form of shared utilities, equipment, and maintenance costs. Heating and cooling three separate buildings costs far more than having three organizations share the same building. Nor do you need separate high-speed Internet connections if the organizations share the same space. (You just need your own virtual private networks and cyber security measures.) Similarly, equipment like printers and copy machines can easily be shared within a flexible office space, rather than each organization needing to purchase their own. The downside, however, is that you don’t have as much freedom to purchase and install large specialized assets of your own.

All of this can add up to a dramatic reduction in occupancy costs. According to some reports, organizations that work in a flexible office space save an average of 40% compared to leasing their own space. And those that operate within a major city can save even more—in some cases, as much as 73%.

Smaller environmental footprint

According to a global study from Nielsen, 81% of consumers strongly believe companies should work to lessen their environmental impact. And for organizations that want to take action, there’s great news: the cost-saving aspects of flexible working spaces also make them more environmentally friendly.

Fewer buildings means fewer construction projects. Less heating and cooling means less electricity, natural gas, or other fuels that need to be used. And fewer pieces of office equipment means less production and transportation of that equipment.

Additionally, because flexible office spaces are often also hybrid workplaces, organizations can reduce their environmental impact even further when employees work from home, minimizing the carbon footprint from their daily commutes.

Across the board, flexible office spaces simply tend to be more efficient—not only in cost savings, but also in environmental sustainability, helping organizations do their part to combat climate change and improving their public image in the process.

Quick move-in

Traditionally, when you move to a new workspace, you can expect it to take some time (and expense) to get the new place set up before it’s ready to be used. Not only do you have to locate the new space and negotiate the lease, but you must design the office layout, remodel, install furniture, set up tech infrastructure, and decorate. It can often take several months before you’re ready to move it.

Why not bypass that whole process?

If you’re moving into an existing flexible office space, everything is set up before you get there. All amenities, services, furniture, and equipment are typically included in the membership, subscription, or lease to use the space. Whether you’re a small start-up eager to get off the ground or an established organization that can’t afford to delay, the ease of moving into an already stocked and furnished office can be a huge help. You can start working right away.

Flexible leasing arrangements

Landlords tend to prefer the stability of longer leases, so they charge a lot more for shorter ones. A typical lease for office space is around five to seven years. That’s a lot of time to commit to, especially with how fast circumstances can change. You might suddenly need more or less space, which could put you in an awkward position if you have to move before your lease is up.

But flexible office spaces are known for their flexible leasing arrangements. Most offer pay-as-you-go pricing structures, often on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. Some even offer weekly or even daily plans—so you could potentially offer remote employees a stipend for finding a flexible office space near them.

With no long-term commitments, your organization will have the freedom to grow and change as circumstances dictate, and you won’t have to worry about being locked into a lease you no longer need.

Increased networking opportunities

Because you’ll be sharing space with other businesses, teams, and individuals, it makes for a great opportunity to network with them. This can give your own organization more exposure, potentially gaining new business. It also lets you establish new business relationships in your community and discover valuable agencies, consultants, freelancers, and tools.

Additionally, working alongside other teams can foster creativity and innovation. Small start-ups often have a lot to learn from larger established companies, and the reverse can be just as true. Sometimes this happens organically, as people from different organizations have everyday interactions. But you can also make an intentional effort to promote such cross-pollination through shared events like hackathons.

Improved productivity

When employees are trusted and empowered to decide when and where they work, they tend to be more productive. They know the times and environments they work best in. To accommodate and appeal to modern workers, flexible office spaces often include different kinds of spaces to promote activity-based working.

In these setups, employees have access to several different stations optimized for specific tasks. They’re free to move around throughout the day to wherever makes the most sense for their work. And studies have shown this to have a dramatic effect on productivity.

For example, research by Veldhoen + Company showed that employees were on average 13% more productive after switching to this kind of workspace arrangement. And a study commissioned by Samsung found workers in activity-based workplaces to be 16% more productive than their counterparts in more traditional workplaces.

Not all flexible office spaces utilize activity-based working. Executive suites, for example, are more likely to be traditionally structured. But many flexible office spaces are activity based, and this can result in a substantial productivity boost.

How do you know if a flexible office space is right for you?

We’ve covered a lot of positives for flexible office spaces, and there’s no doubt that they have a lot to offer. But they aren’t right for every organization. So let’s consider a few specific examples where you may—or may not—want to consider moving to a flexible office space.

You may want to consider a flexible office space if:

  • You’re a start-up that expects to grow quickly.
  • You’re an established company that wants to reduce your real estate portfolio.
  • You’d like to foster more engagement with other teams and organizations.
  • You have a mix of in-person and remote employees.
  • You need more flexibility in your lease arrangement.
  • You’d like to lower your environmental footprint.

You may not want to consider a flexible office space if:

  • Your line of work requires employees to be in an assigned place at a given time.
  • You value the independence of leasing your own space.
  • You need a workplace that is quiet and predictable.
  • You need specialized equipment you can’t deploy in a flexible office space.
  • Your business deals with sensitive data, which would be too difficult to secure.
  • You take pride in your unique workplace culture, and you don’t want to lose that.
  • The space you currently have is working well, and there’s no need to change it.

Ultimately, you know your own organization, and you’re in the best position to determine whether a flexible office space would be a good fit for your needs.

Another way to give employees flexibility

For businesses that want to stay agile, use less space, and provide employees with flexibility, a hybrid workplace model is another increasingly popular choice. In fact, if you lease a flexible office space and your employees work remotely part time, you’re already embracing the hybrid workplace model.

In The Rise of the Hybrid Workplace: Strategic Opportunities for the Post-Pandemic Office, we explore what sets a hybrid workplace apart, why businesses turn to this dynamic model, and how to decide if it’s a good fit for your organization.

Contributors

Brett Sample

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