Workspaces

A complete guide to flexible workspaces

Feb 28, 2020
A guide on what flex spaces are, their key benefits and how they're evolving to meet corporate demands.

Over the past decade, flexible workspaces have transformed from a convenient office solution for startups and freelancers to a strategic decision among enterprise companies and landlords.

 

The best flex spaces offer attractive workspaces and meeting rooms with equally attractive amenities and services — all on flexible leasing terms that range from monthly memberships to longer term contracts.  

 

But too often, the term flexible workspace evokes confusion.

 

Some say flexible workspaces are different than coworking spaces. Others say coworking spaces are a type of flex space. And still, others say that as long as the lease terms for a workspace are flexible (i.e., not a traditional straight lease of space) and there are desks and chairs and maybe a coffee pot… well, it’s a flexible workspace.

 

Given the growing popularity of flexible workspaces, we’ve decided to clear the air on what a flex space is — and what their role is in today’s work world.

 

In this guide, you’ll find information on:

 

What is a Flexible Workspace?

Flexible Workspace – Noun. A fully serviced office with dedicated workspaces, amenities and furnishings available to companies and professionals via flexible lease terms that can run from monthly memberships to short-term and longer-term leases. Also known as flex space.

Coworking is the most commonly talked about type of flex space, and the one that gets the lion’s share of attention. Part of this has to do with its relative age compared to other variants of flex space. While coworking spaces have gained significant attention in the past decade, the term coworking was first coined in 1999 — and the first coworking space opened in 2005.  

 

Today, coworking is just one type of flex space.  

 

By definition, “flexible workspace” is an umbrella term that describes a range of office solutions that include coworking spaces, private offices, on-demand meeting rooms and executive suites.

 

Different providers offer different mixes of flex space solutions, but they are all tied together by one defining attribute: flexibility from long-term leases (more on that later).

 

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Here are just a few of the most common types of flexible space solutions:   

 

  • Coworking: At its most basic level, coworking spaces offer a communal working area where people who belong to different companies can congregate to work. Coworking spaces often offer the same amenities you would find in a traditional office — Wi-Fi, printers, conference rooms and desks — and perks like social areas, beverages and snacks.

  • Hot Desks: Many coworking and flex space providers offer something called “hot desks,” or “hot desking,” where all desk space is shared — and people can work wherever they choose on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • Dedicated desks: Some coworking and flex space providers offer dedicated desk space where a member can effectively lease a private desk. These spaces typically offer professionals a level of consistency — and the ability to leave things at their leased desk (like a computer monitor or notebook).

  • Private Flexible Offices: Flex space providers are increasingly offering fully furnished private office suites. These give companies the option to carve out dedicated space within a flexible work environment with private work areas including dedicated offices and meeting rooms, while still enjoying all the amenities of the shared flexible workspace.

  • On-Demand Meeting & Conference Rooms: Flex space providers commonly offer on-demand meeting and conference rooms which members can book for a set amount of time. Some flex workspaces also open their meeting and conference rooms up to visitors who need ad-hoc meeting space and are not members.

Key Takeaway

 

Flexible space includes a range of office solutions that are on the rise: coworking, private offices, meeting rooms and executive suites. These spaces often include amenities and perks with everything from Wi-Fi to coffee. All of these workspaces share flexible lease terms, which range from monthly memberships to multi-year leases.

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What are the Benefits of a Flexible Workspace?

 

The move toward more flex space offerings by professionals and companies isn’t surprising. For many, flex space holds a number of benefits and key advantages over traditional office leases.

 

That’s why an American Occupier Survey found that 85% of real estate executives say they will adopt flexible-office solutions into their portfolio strategy in the next three years. And even though flex space only accounts for 2% of total office space at present, that figure is expected to rise to more than 13% by 2030.

 

Here are just some of the key benefits flexible workspaces offer:

 

  1. Flexible Lease Terms: Where traditional office spaces can carry lease periods of 10-15 years, flexible spaces give businesses greater latitude. In many cases, lease terms can be negotiated to last anywhere between one to five years. Flex space providers will also commonly offer individual memberships on a monthly basis for coworking s paces. This frees companies — especially those in high-growth stages — and professionals to easily expand or relocate when they need to without the pressure of a long-term lease.

  2. Reduced Occupancy Costs: Typically, when a company leases a workspace, they are responsible for tailoring that space to meet the needs of their company. This includes everything from the electrical work and furnishings to the IT and networking infrastructure. These things can be expensive. In most flex space arrangements, these details are already taken care of which helps the leasing company avoid shelling out significant capital up front, thereby reducing overall occupancy costs.

  3. An Improved Employee Experience: Flex spaces often provide leading-edge amenities, resources and optimal workplace design in convenient and desirable locations. Being surrounded by other working professionals, regardless of whether or not you work with them, impacts motivation and creates a sense of community.

    This is especially important for employees who, with the option to work remotely, need to get outside of the house and separate their work from their personal lives. Flex spaces also provide a professional environment to meet clients, and many have unique in-person networking opportunities.

  4. On-Demand Meeting & Conference Rooms: Flex spaces aren’t just desks for hire. They usually feature a wide range of on-demand meeting spaces including private lounges and larger conference rooms, making it easy to reserve space for an off-site or client meeting when you need it. That means you aren’t paying for it when it’s not being used. These on-demand rooms also often include technology such as video conferencing and screen sharing.

Key Takeaway

 

Flex spaces offer a host of benefits including flexible lease terms that give companies greater control; fully outfitted workspaces with furniture, technology and amenities all contributing to reduced occupancy costs; and fully amenitized office spaces, leading to an improved employee experience.

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How Flex Spaces are Evolving to Meet Enterprise Demand

Historically, flex space solutions have been favored by freelancers and startups. But the benefits of flex spaces are fueling an increase in demand among corporate occupiers — and that demand is fueling larger growth in the industry.

 

This increased demand has been particularly evident among enterprise companies with many looking at flex spaces as temporary solutions while they grow or renovate larger main offices. Some companies are using flex spaces to open satellite offices in new and desirable locations, whether for innovation purposes or to use as a secondary HQ.

 

“The Fortune 500 is engaged and intrigued,” says CBRE. “85% of real estate executives plan to implement flexible-office solutions into their portfolio strategy … [yet] enterprise customers are early in the implementation stage of flexible-office solutions as a portfolio strategy.” As of 2020, flex space only accounts for 2% of total office space. But that figure is expected to rise to more than 13% by 2030.

 

This demand from Fortune 500 companies is triggering growth in the industry — and impacting what type of workspaces flex space providers offer.

 

CBRE found that flex space supply has grown by an average of 26% annually since 2010, with even larger growth expected ahead. And where flex space offerings have traditionally been anchored around coworking space, industry providers are now working to offer more private office space with key things enterprise customers demand such as improved technology, added privacy and better-quality workspaces. 

 

Flexible workspaces are also growing outside of urban centers to meet demand from enterprise companies and professionals.

 

While the biggest flex space markets are still found in bustling metro areas like San Francisco, Manhattan, Miami, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle and Denver, flex space is expanding into the suburbs with larger private office offerings cropping up to fuel increasing demand among enterprise occupiers.

Key Takeaway

 

Flex spaces are expanding and adapting to meet the needs of a growing list of flex users. No longer the sole domain of freelancers looking to get out of the house, flexible workspaces are beginning to fill the needs of corporate and enterprise occupiers looking for high-quality workspaces with flexible lease terms, and estimates predict that flex space inventory will continue to grow at rapid rates.

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How Flex Spaces are Reorienting around Productivity

Over the past decade, flexible workspaces have been synonymous with communal work areas, community programming and to a large degree, coworking. But as enterprise demand for flexible workspaces has grown, the focus on community in flex spaces is steadily shifting towards a focus on productivity. 

 

This is apparent in the demands enterprise companies — and lone-wolf professionals, for that matter — are placing on flexible workspace providers.

 

Some of the biggest demands come down to a few basic elements: 

 

      • Acoustics: Flex space providers typically offer open workspaces, which are notorious for their poor acoustics — and compound the problem by hosting community programming events in key work areas. Moreover, flex space providers often design for scale, prioritizing cheaper materials like glass and laminate wooden floors that do a poor job at dampening ambient  noise. In a survey of 1,000+ office workers, we found "quiet spaces" were one of the biggest demands among professionals. 

      • Physical Privacy & Secure Technology: Across shared workspaces and even private office suites which often feature "fishbowl-like" glass walls, a common pain point among professionals in flex spaces (and particularly enterprise companies) is a lack of privacy.

        This is, in part, by design. Flex space providers have long placed value on community, favoring open-plan workspaces that seek to bring people together. But as flex spaces mature, providers are facing pressure to offer more private spaces for confidential meetings and focused work.

        A similar issue has played out with technology and digital security. Enterprise companies, in particular, often expect to able to configure the technology and internet settings to their own specific security specifications. 
      • Ergonomics: A common complaint in flex spaces — and offices more generally — comes down to ergonomics. Being built for scale and maximum occupancy, flex space providers have to buy workstations and furniture in bulk and frequently underinvest in comfort. In our survey, we found an overwhelming majority of office workers (79%) cite comfortable furniture as one of the biggest office perks

      • Branding: When building out an office, companies often unsurprisingly want to make a space feel like their own. This includes little things like logo treatments to bigger things like signage and personalized decoration. There's a simple reason behind this: companies want their employees feel like they work for them and feel pride in that fact. With most flex space providers, company branding has a place — but the flex space provider's branding comes first. 

Taken together, these common paint points often detract from employee productivity — and push enterprise occupiers away.

 

Addressing these concerns has become a top-line item for flex space providers, which are increasingly reorienting their workspaces around productivity. 

Key Takeaway

 

As enterprise demand for flex space grows, flex space providers are moving to create more productive spaces by solving common pain paints in their workspace designs. Part of this involves improving key workspace features such as acoustics and ergonomic comfort; another part involves improving digital security and offering increased privacy. Flex space providers are also moving to separate community events and programming from the core workspaces to limit distractions. 

Take this with You

From coworking spaces with hot desks (and dedicated desks) to private flexible offices and on-demand meeting rooms, flex spaces offer a number of office solutions for professionals and are increasingly maturing to meet the needs of corporate and enterprise occupiers. 

 

Thanks to benefits like flexible lease terms, reduced occupancy costs and attractive amenities, experts predict significant growth in the flex space market over the next decade. And that’s a plus for professionals, high-growth companies and enterprise occupiers looking for more flexibility in their space planning decisions.  

 

 

To learn more about our research into the perks employees really care about, explore our white paper Forget Foosball: People Want a Better Place to Work, Not Play

 

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