Ed Nolan

CHICAGO, IL—-The average worker spends 40% of the day at their desk. Eighty percent of work is defined as “collaborative.” Forty-three percent of respondents in a survey indicate that less than 5% of their worksite include enclosed offices. More than 80% of workers spend their time engaged in collaborative work. So says JLL’s 2018 Occupancy Benchmarking Report.

What do all these stats ultimately mean? “In this new era, there is no one-size-fits-all flex approach, even within a single corporation,” says Ed Nolan, Managing Director and Workplace Strategy Practice Lead, JLL. “Options are key.”

The use of flex space is becoming just as much art as science, Nolan continues, with flexible spaces inspiring uses that trigger creativity and organically shape collaboration. This could mean employees working from home, a café, an outdoor park or a quiet lounge, kitchen, or conference room within the office. “For every business need, there is an ideal space at any given point in time,” he says.

This is one of the reasons why tracking workplace occupancy is so important. Without the proper tracking in place, it’s nearly impossible to make informed decisions about how much and what type of space is needed. According to the 2018 Occupancy Benchmarking Guide, most corporate space is underutilized 60% of the time and those empty desks represent a significant financial opportunity, given that real estate is typically the second- or third-largest item on a balance sheet.  “For most companies, workplace flexibility means financial flexibility, bringing flexible lease terms and portfolio agility—both critical in today’s business climate,” Nolan tells GlobeSt.com.

A Recruiting Edge

In addition to the financial benefits, workplace flexibility gives companies a powerful talent recruitment and retention edge.

“The workforce has become more technologically confident and fluid, with many more telecommuters, freelancers and contractors who make up the gig economy,” Nolan says. “Companies have realized the need for flexible space arrangements to better manage this “liquid” workforce.”

In fact, more than half of companies JLL talked to in a recent survey have some form of mobility program in place, meaning employers are strategically promoting employee choice on where to work and more employees operate without any assigned space. “The changing workforce, combined with the digitization of enterprise work processes, has organizations looking for flexibility in where and how their people work so they can find and attract the best talent, whether they’re permanent employees, contractors or freelancers,” Nolan says. Organizations may also be looking to use short-term space that can incubate innovation, accommodate rapid growth or keep productivity high. Even firms in more traditional industries like law and banking are transforming their workspace to create more collaborative environments and support employee choice, he says.

Solo Desks Versus A Demand for Conference Space

With this evolving “liquid” workforce, employers are now motivated to adjust their existing work space to better meet their employees’ needs and adapt to the current work culture. “You may find, for instance, that individual desks sit empty for most of the day while conference space is always in demand, and the kitchen is overflowing with people trying to work together. Then the question becomes: How can we convert some of the solo desk space into more collaboration areas?

That said, not everyone wants to work in a lounge—balancing collaborative and the strong need for focused individual work is critical, Nolan says. “The flex work revolution is about options, not pushing one specific work style.”

Flexibility Gives Landlords An Edge

When it comes to leasing space, companies are forced to be nimbler than ever. Flexible space can involve concepts like coworking or shared event space, spec suites, short-term leases, expansion/termination options and subleases all based on getting more evidence about how work is changing and influencing the workspaces employees use.

As a result, landlords who can accommodate the need for flexibility are a step ahead in the race for tenants.

“That’s one reason why so many building owners are investing in amenities today, building lounges and alternative work spaces that can serve as an extension of a company’s leased footprint. Interestingly, some investors are considering launching their own, unbranded coworking offerings within buildings they own,” Nolan says. He notes that there is a lot of experimentation with new flex models but that it will take some time to learn which models are most successful and valuable for building owners and for tenants. The key will be to provide the template—including natural light, wired for advanced technological connectivity, and nearby amenities—that can be customized for tenants and evolved as their needs change, observes Nolan.

Of course, when it comes to flex space, there will be trends and fads that come and go, but the flexible work and the flexible office landscape is here to stay. JLL’s research predicts that that 30% of all office space could be consumed flexibly by 2030. This includes coworking and other elements of “flexibility,” like short-term lease terms, incubators, accelerators, collaboration spaces and executive suites.

“The flex work revolution is about options, not pushing one specific work style. While collaborative work is a trademark feature that many employees and employers regard as important, flex work provides an agile, nimble structure that can be adapted and evolved as needs change, whether that reflects an acceleration or retraction of collaborative working,” Nolan says.