Why post-pandemic trends should put coworking spaces on your return-to-work roadmap

by
L Walker
|
July 6, 2021

The business of “opening back up” your business after a global pandemic is not straightforward.

Do you reopen and try to recover some sense of business as usual by bringing everyone back to full-time in-person work? (What about your employees who moved further away or who became parents?)

Do you close up shop and go all-remote forever and risk making your workplace a poor experience for people whose home situations aren’t conducive to productivity?

Or do you find some hybrid compromise in-between?

Your employees have strong feelings no matter which direction you go in. Research from global staffing firm Robert Half revealed that 34% of people currently working from home would rather quit their job than come back to the office full-time. Simply turning the lights back on isn’t enough: Going into an office has to be worth it to your team.

Coworking spaces — and their operators, owners and tenants — are ready to serve a completely new workspace landscape and job market in order to help companies compete for a dwindling pool of talent and members.

Coworking spaces offer real benefits, not cool perks, to their members

Work spaces are changing because the workforce itself is changing. We’ve known for a while that the U.S. population is undergoing a tectonic shift: Baby boomers are retiring while the birth rate declines and millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce today. Good talent is hard to find. Plus, the traditional office environments depicted in movies like 9 to 5 and Working Girl have been replaced with trendy WeWork-style office spaces seen in Silicon Valley.

Companies hip to these shifts may have already doubled down on offering unique programs and space features to attract members their way. But beer on tap and quirky beanbag chairs don’t meet the new workforce’s real, tangible needs of their workspaces.

“One roadblock to getting workers back is outdated corporate attitudes and job requirements,” wrote Tim Smart in an overview of the May 2021 Jobs Report in the U.S.

“While this is not a new issue, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which brought to the fore long-standing barriers to employment like a lack of skills, child care options for working parents and accessibility.”

Workers are burnt out, ready to quit, and ready to move for a more flexible arrangement — so creating a meaningful and flexible workplace experience is key.

⇒ Related reading: Reopening your coworking space? How to encourage people to come back

Specifically, women have been leaving the workforce and not looking back. Over 2.3 million women completely dropped out of the labor force between February 2020 and February 2021, according to the National Women’s Law Center. They’re leaving for a variety of complex reasons, many of which employers can work to solve in order to find and retain more talented women.

In a Fast Company op-ed on how working moms have had poor experiences at work during the pandemic, Slack senior director Sheela Subramanian exhorted companies to “reallocate funds to support working mothers with complimentary cleaning services, meal kits, or even credits for virtual tutors,” instead of excluding working parents with perks that favor younger or childless talent.

“These investments will signal how much you value the parents within your ranks, and they will lessen the burden in ways that matter.”

Takeaway for coworking spaces: Offer an inclusive, supportive member experience with real amenities that meet the post-pandemic workforce’s needs, such as in-house childcare. You’ll provide both an excellent workplace for workers, and an attractive benefit for company tenants competing for a dwindling applicant pool.

Coworking isn’t just for Google or tiny tech startups anymore

Major tech companies like Google and Twitter are offering permanent flexible working arrangements. To attract talent to smaller and mid-sized businesses while also staying cost-efficient, coworking spaces can serve as a middle ground to engage employees with flexibility at scale, just like the Big Four.

Leveraging coworking spaces and flex spaces over permanent office spaces can be a competitive differentiator to attracting slim talent options to your team — and open up your talent pool to brilliant minds outside of your main offices’ metro areas. Plus, swapping out a 5-year office park lease for something more flexible, like ad-hoc, floating desk memberships for employees, makes quarterly planning more easier on your operations department, too.

⇒ Related reading: What is space-as-a-service?

Not only does flexible work promise these benefits to teams, but it’s also an urgent diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issue: Only 3 percent of Black workers surveyed by Future Forum said they wanted to return fully in-person post-pandemic, compared with 21 percent of white workers. The study concluded that flexible work was critical to a feeling of greater inclusion for Black workers. After a year that brought racial injustices to light in new ways, and many employers made public commitments to increasing racial parity in their organizations, flexible work arrangements are a key way to follow through on those commitments.

“Flexible work eliminates the physical headquarters as the focal point of a company, and instead leverages technology to give employees control over when and where they work and how they engage and respond. While flexible work alone is not a panacea, it is an essential starting point for moving away from many of the structural inequities that pervade the U.S. workplace.” (Future Forum, 2021)

By the way: Remember those 34% of workers who would rather quit than join you back in your office full-time? Flexible work doubles as both a peace offering and a way to re-engage this group of employees on your staff who may not be as bought-in to your company’s mission and culture.

⇒ Related reading: Back to the future… of work!

If you’re not sure a fancy new space could fit into your operations budget this year, think again. Larger corporations with significant office footprints are starting to lease out parts of their buildings to smaller teams, who can benefit from “piggybacking” on those spaces at good rates — but with lower risk through shorter leases than many commercial spaces.

Takeaway for employers: You may be able to experience the benefits of a coworking space now with less expense and commitment. Having a flexible space will attract and retain talent you previously wouldn’t have been able to attract or retain.

Traditional commercial real estate is getting into the coworking game

By 2030, 30% of office space will include some type of flexible space, predicts JLL research. Flexible space currently accounts for less than 5% of U.S. offices today, but it’s on the rise. CRE professionals are supplementing their dwindling office space contracts with flex space agreements. This diversifies their portfolio, reduces risk, and opens new opportunities for beneficial partnerships.

The Instant Group predicts that landlords and operators will have to take new approaches with their CRE clients who want to add flexible spaces to their portfolios as well. Managing flexible spaces comes with all sorts of new challenges, from member management, to new security concerns, to the tech outfitting of the space itself.

Takeaway for property managers: Refresh your property portfolio with more options for tenants to engage with your spaces, and retain them by providing them with tech solutions that help them provide a better experience.

Talk to the Coworks team about how our coworking management software can help you streamline your coworking space experience for members and managers alike.