Remember, back at the start of the decade - a full five months ago - when coronavirus still sounded like another name for freshers’ flu and we thought Hell would freeze over before the pubs would close in London? Ha! What fools.
We felt a sense of certainty about the future - or at least, felt certain that the year would hit certain beats: from spring weddings and summer holidays to an Olympic Games held in Tokyo and a UN climate change conference in Glasgow.
So, in a world where all future certainties have been wiped clean in a single swipe, it is surprising to look back at those predictions that might actually turn out to become true.
Back in January, Colliers laid out their predictions for flexible workspace for the year ahead.
One of the things they heralded was the growth of suburban spaces “driven by large scale occupiers executing flexible working policies for their employees based in decentralized locations”.
As you might have noticed, there has been a real spurt in employers embracing flexible working policies. We’ve had work from home - is it now time for decentralized flexible workspace?
That certainly seems to be the picture at the moment. With public transport being discouraged at all costs, employers are looking for ways to get their staff into an office without making them commute long distances. Employers are catering to their employees' needs: instead of the employees going to the office; the office comes to them.
In New York, flexible workspaces outside the city, particularly in Westchester, Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey, are seeing all-time highs in demand. It is estimated that the majority of businesses that have most of their employees commuting into the city are exploring flexible workspace options in the suburbs.
There are many benefits associated with this: as well as reducing commuting, it also means that teams are separated so that if one team gets ill, that doesn’t mean the whole workforce does.
In addition, suburban coworking spaces are often more spacious than offices in urban areas, meaning they can spread out workstations and implement physical distancing more easily.
However, all of this may only be relevant during the current pandemic. Some operators are doubtful whether demand will extend beyond that: Bisnow quote Jamie Hodari, CEO of workplace provider Industrious, “We’re hearing a lot of ‘Until there is a vaccine, there is a very real change in what our employees’ desires and expectations are, and we’d like to see if there is a way to accommodate that. But not a lot of them are saying, ‘I believe forevermore that the nature of New York City has changed.’”
But others believe that this short-term shift will lead to long-term benefits for the flexible workspace industry. At a recent GCUC UK event, one of their main conclusions was that in the long-term, suburban, rural and regional coworking spaces will benefit as employees who previously had to endure long commutes put pressure on their employer to allow them to work remotely.
But suburban dwellers are not the only group of people who may have an impact on the further afield flexible workspaces. At the moment, many people live in cities, not because they want to, but because it is convenient for their work.
Now that remote working has been proven to be possible for many jobs, these people may be looking to move out of the city. It may be happening already around London with Savills reporting an increase in buyers looking around Hampshire, Berkshire and Dorset.
Lending weight to this claim, last week both The Times and The Telegraph published articles about people choosing to settle outside London because, for the first time, they realised that they could work remotely while living out their bucolic dreams.
Yet just because they no longer need to go into “The office” doesn’t mean that they won’t want to go into An office. While people may not miss commuting, they certainly miss the office.
For those new escapees from London, missing the office environment and their interactions with coworkers, what could be more ideal than their friendly neighbourhood coworking space?
Back in February we came up with our own predictions of what could happen if remote work was adopted on a wide scale. We peppered the article with “maybes” and “mights” so that we did not come across as starry-eyed dreamers, disconnected from reality. We conjectured that with remote work people would be able to live wherever they wanted. Nowadays, with such discussions taking place across the media, maybe our past selves weren’t so foolish after all.
Desana is working with rural and suburban flexible workspace providers to provide a solution specifically for COVID-19 workspace resilience. If you are a workspace operator who’d like to help with this, get in touch.