In recent years, disruptive forces have transformed how we think about entire industries: Spotify with music; Uber and Lyft with transportation; and Netflix with TV and movies. Slowly but surely, the way we think about offices, how we work, and productivity has been changing, too. Alongside the rise of the co-living trend, the demand for coworking space—or offices shared by more than one business—is reaching a tipping point; as much as 30 percent of corporate real estate portfolios could be flexible workspaces by 2030, according to commercial real estate investment management company JLL.
But it’s not just your corporate or commercial clients who may be in need of this type of space. How about you, too?
Ninety percent of American entrepreneurs say flexible workspaces help their businesses stay competitive and grow, according to the 2018 IWG Workspace Survey. Eighty-four percent say flexibility helps them create a presence in new markets. This data is further proof of a huge shift in the global landscape. For smart real estate businesses, offering flexible workspaces can create a competitive advantage by helping to cut costs and overhead, eliminate back office needs, and attract and retain talent. It also provides an opportunity to lease and sell space to flexible workspace providers.
How did we get to this point? There are three key drivers:
- Technology is accelerating rapidly. Within two years, 80 percent of the world’s population will own a smartphone. The cloud has grown exponentially. Technology enables us to always be connected. For real estate professionals and brokerages, this means it’s now easier than ever before to plug in and work from anywhere, at any time, lessening the needs for one central work location.
- Professionals want flexibility. This is true particularly of those digital native millennials—the cohort of young, fresh agents joining the real estate business—who have grown up with technology and whose expectations are less shackled by what was possible before. They know they can work from anywhere and that they will be expected to work hard throughout their careers. But most employees, regardless of age, appreciate flexibility. Why should real estate professionals commute for hours a day? They want to be with companies that give them the freedom to do their jobs and enable them to experience the benefits of a collaborative community without wasting hours of their day.
- Flexible companies drive business benefits. Savvy broker-owners and managers know offering flexible options is a key advantage in securing the best talent. They also understand the financial and strategic advantages flexible workspaces provide. This type of approach cuts company costs and allows brokerages to concentrate on their core business—serving clients.
This setup is beneficial to real estate companies of all sizes, from indie brokerages to corporations serving international markets. For the indie broker, the benefits are immediate. They want to focus on growing their business, not spending time and money on leasing office space and managing back-end operations. By sharing workspace, startup brokerages and small brokers can gain what every real estate office needs—best-in-class IT, security, and telecommunications capabilities—at minimal cost. As an added overlay, small brokers can develop community, share knowledge, and collaborate with other professionals. The collaborative nature of shared office space provides invaluable networking opportunities to generate new leads. Additionally, working among other companies can help brokers better understand industries they serve or a new market niche.
There also are benefits for large brokerages. Many of the most innovative businesses have a dedicated flexible workspace strategy, which allows brokerages to be nimble, moving agents into a new market quickly without having to establish a physical presence first via a lease and expensive relocation costs. For example, if a brokerage wanted to enter a new market, they could purchase a membership or office with a coworking provider and instantly have real estate agents up and running in that market. Of course, companies require a headquarters, but by complementing this with a flexible workspace option, they can drive benefits to their business.
With flexibility, employee well-being and personal satisfaction will increase, and in today’s battle for top talent, that means a lot. Fewer hours spent commuting, along with greater independence and flexibility, equals more productive workers. In fact, agents are likely to become more creative, driving more innovations for your business. Why? Because one of the enemies of corporate innovation is groupthink. Having all of your people under one roof, having the same conversations with the same people day after day might be stifling their potential to generate original ideas. Instead, giving individuals the chance to network with other minds may spark unique creative ideas that may have not been ideated on before.
Flexible working is effective at every level of business. Delivering workspace solutions that allow creative people to work in a collaborative workspace—while also providing high-end, quieter offices and spaces for events and meetings—can be a big boon to brokerages. A one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work for any aspect of a successful large business. For too long, however, this is the approach most businesses have taken for their offices. This has happened because most people didn’t see any alternative, just as a decade ago, there was no alternative to CDs. Then streaming services like Pandora and Spotify came along.The workspace revolution is coming. Smart businesses will start planning for it now.