COMMENT How we will work in the future and what kind of offices we will inhabit is the source of much speculation. With concerns raised about social distancing in offices, demand for long-lease traditional workspaces has slumped – as has the popularity of co-working for largely the same reason.

Flexible workspaces have their challenges, but in such an uncertain market they have the adaptability to prosper. Indeed, I believe the Covid-19 pandemic will help to accelerate a new model of flexible offices, service-enhanced multi-occupied buildings, which will increasingly be the norm as the flexible office market continues to evolve to match the needs of businesses.

Beyond flexibility

Critical for companies moving forward is flexibility. Serviced offices can provide this, offering the “burst space” not only to accommodate social distancing but also to provide the additional space that might be needed for growth. This is why forecasts still project that the sector will grow to account for some 30% of the total commercial office market by 2030.

But the serviced office model will still evolve further. This will be to reflect longer-terms trends of flexible office operators combining an increasing range of services in their portfolios, as well as the impact of Covid-19, which is likely to put a premium on buildings where office workers can access a broad variety of services on-site, minimising the need to travel and use public transport. This too reflects a broader societal shift among consumers for more convenience in their lives.

So the continued long-term success of the sector is likely to depend less on any greater flexibility offered and more on the range of services provided. The industry had already embraced the concept of space-as-a-service as underpinning its offer, not only to enhance revenues but also for the benefit of the wellbeing of its corporate clients and their staff.

From desks to doctors

Service-enhanced multi-occupied buildings are a natural progression for the sector. Essentially, these are likely to be large-scale buildings, offering a more holistic working environment, as they will be able to accommodate dedicated flexible office space as well as a diverse mix of services, such as hair salons, gyms, primary healthcare services such as GP surgeries and physiotherapy clinics, all in the same building.

The concept is to take space-as-a-service one step further, and deliver those everyday services that will support users and, in turn, enhance a working environment. Commercially, an operator using this model would partner with service providers, sharing expertise as well as profit.

This is an approach that we have already implemented to an extent at our flexible office at Monument, in the heart of the City of London. This building also reflects my belief that there will be an increasing intersection between flexible offices and hospitality. For example, in our Monument building we offer serviced bedrooms. These can be used by our clients as well as their own clients, following meetings, parties and everything in between.

Truly smart buildings

At the core of such properties will be upgraded tech and connectivity, to make them truly smart buildings and allow companies to more seamlessly combine home and office working, centralise security and energy use functions, and establish the more contactless environment that will be essential for all offices.

While the future of the office has certainly been called into question, there are clear indications that we very much need the office now and in the future. In our recent survey, which assessed how employees are finding working from home, more than 95% reported that they wanted to return to work, with the key barriers concerning transport and cleanliness.

If we are able to provide fully serviced buildings, where cleaning can be standardised and travel minimised, we can remove these critical barriers and recover confidence, and office workers and staff can look ahead to soon being in serviced office enhanced multi-occupancy buildings, which will provide the best office environment yet for their wellbeing.

Giles Fuchs is chief executive of Office Space in Town