A lot of the discussions about the future of work centres around the changes in work itself and within the workforce, the people. But the third and important lever in that equation is the workspace.
From the offices that tower the skylines of modern cities to tech parks to smaller offices, questions around the future of workspaces are emerging across various categories of offices today.
After the pandemic-enforced remote work ended and as organisations tried to re-adjust to the office mode again, some fundamental insights emerged. What exactly is the role of the office of the future if the work mode continues to be a mix of in-office, at home and hybrid?
Ernst & Young, in one of their recent articles, imagines the office shifting from a place to work to a network of spaces. That is a critical shift.
Work as a place as we experienced so far could then evolve to multiple other dimensions.
In the hybrid model, the office, according to EY, could be more of an anchor or a connector. That could mean that the office remains a key element to drive more connection across employees across modes. They could choose to be in office for specific days and for specific objectives.As the spectrum shifts more towards remote forms of work, where does the centrality of office continue to play a role? EY research asks two critical points here. Can the office then become more of a magnet which, while not being central for work, still becomes a place that attracts employees for learning and for culture sharing? And taking that thought further, can the office then look more at work as an activity where you can choose to work out of a network of spaces?
There is also a cost angle to this. Real estate is expensive and a lot of companies are exploring the requirements and the lease agreements.
One factor that is emerging is the concept of flex spaces. This could include spaces in coworking spaces, virtual offices with support solutions on subscription such as storage, managed offices — which are developed and managed per protocols — and also the enterprise bespoke models. A recent Jones Lang LaSalle-CoWorks report said that this flex segment of office stock was around 3.9% today but has risen from 3.0% in just 2020 and was expected to rise to about 5% in the next five years. The traditional office lease models are also evolving with other financial arrangements such as franchise and profit shares lease models.
The demand for flexibility in real estate is leading to this increasing over time. The demand is currently from some of the larger cities such as Bengaluru, Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Other cities such as Pune and Chennai are getting more traction as well, according to the research.
The research further showed that many options of hybrid work are emerging. Apart from working from just the office or from home, work from third-party places such as coworking facilities, lounges or cafes are also increasing and that is driving the demand for flex spaces as well.
Apart from the usual office requirements, in terms of future readiness, another emerging parameter today is sustainability.
Built environments such as office spaces do contribute significantly to carbon emissions. Today, with more regulations emerging around ESG and more awareness around environment sustainability, offices are also investing in tools and technologies that can make them smarter and more energy efficient.
What is clear is that workspaces of the future will look and feel quite different compared to the offices of yesterday and today. And even before a new version of the sitcom could reimagine these spaces, they might start becoming part of our work life, in reality.