Should your company rent coworking space when needed, or create your own flexible workspace? See what this UK study found

by Brianna Crandall — January 29, 2020 — Joint research from global design and architecture firm Gensler and the British Council of Offices (BCO) on the rise of flexible workspace in the UK corporate sector revealed the value of coworking spaces in certain circumstances, yet uncovered that 40% of coworking space users would rather work from a conventional office, prompting questions about the viability of the flexible space solutions as they currently stand.

Gensler coworking graphic

Image courtesy Gensler. Click to enlarge.

Key findings include:

  • 40% of flexible space users would rather work in a traditional office setup;
  • Satisfaction rates for spatial and service features were 12% lower for London compared to other UK regional cities;
  • Only 29% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the flexible workplace had increased their efficiency for tasks where they needed to concentrate, while 38% disagreed;
  • 69% agreed or strongly agreed that their workplace helped them to collaborate more;
  • 57% of flexible workspace users reported being happier at work.

While the future of coworking is increasingly being explored as part of academic and industry research, there has been limited focus on what it means for large corporate occupiers. The 2019 Rise of Flexible Workspace in the Corporate Sector Report aims to do just that by identifying the drivers of — and the barriers to — the use of flexible space and coworking by large corporate occupiers.

Gensler coworking preference graphic

Image courtesy Gensler. Click to enlarge.

Coworking has evolved from being the realm of freelancers and start-ups to being part of the corporate arena. As uncovered in Gensler Research Institute’s US Workplace Survey 2019, 14% of respondents working for companies of 100 or more employees reported using coworking space for part of their average working week. Gensler’s data confirmed that access to coworking directly correlates with effectiveness and experience when offered as another choice of where to work, but not a replacement for the main office.

In order to attract and retain top talent and to optimize employees’ performance in the workplace, the US report advised employers to use coworking as a part of, not a replacement for, a great workplace experience. When large companies offer employees the option to use a coworking space, it is associated with a better work experience and higher performance, but it loses its luster if used more than one day a week, according to the US report.

The latest and increasingly dominant revolution in coworking shared space has seen employees of large corporates working away from their main office space outnumbering freelancers. In 2018, corporate occupiers made up a quarter of WeWork’s members and revenue globally.

However, the recent developments of WeWork will have a knock-on effect on how the coworking model moves forward, according to the UK report. Especially so with the likes of Knotel, whose business model is geared entirely towards large corporates.

Despite this rising trend, approximately 40% of flexible space users would prefer to work from a conventional office. Comparison of the preference for traditional versus flexible space across industry sectors shows that 46% of those in consulting services would prefer to return to a traditional set-up, compared to 37% in financial services.

Cesar Jeri, digital workplace strategy lead at Verizon, commented:

A one-size-fits-all flexible workspace does not cut it. There are still many firms with a high degree of process with individual focus needs; so flexible and collaborative spaces can be highly distracting for some whilst energizing for people in other parts of the business. A workspace needs to be first and foremost inclusive and empower people to make a choice so that it can address the needs of most, if not all, its end users.

Corporate users: Future of coworking

UK-based large corporates are at different stages in the adoption of flexible workspace. The more mature corporates adopting flexible spaces have combined several approaches that enable them to collect feedback on user experience in order to have a better understanding of the type of spatial settings and flexible working arrangements that drive employee productivity and enrich user experience.

Gensler graphic - current coworking environment

Image courtesy Gensler. Click to enlarge.

Having initially favored individual memberships of coworking spaces or taking space on-demand for a specific project, large corporates in the UK are now increasingly seeing the benefits of either developing their own coworking area within their real estate portfolio or leasing a private area in a shared serviced space. Collaborative or shared spaces were rated as the top three spatial features in the user survey conducted for this study.

The report pointed out that the individual membership model is generally implemented as a “quick fix” approach, with a number of large corporates adopting this model as a supplement to, or even as a replacement for, “swing spaces” — with the aim of accommodating peaks and troughs of demand, which they have traditionally held within their own real estate portfolios.

As Jane Clay, principal and design director at Gensler, highlights:

Our research suggests that the companies interviewed are all progressively moving away from this individual membership model and capitalizing on lessons learned — implementing a flexible workplace strategy in their own space where they can influence its design, tailor the user experience and envision specific business outcomes. This approach also has the added benefit of enabling large corporates to personalize their space and showcase their brand within a less traditional work environment, with a direct positive impact on their recruiting process.

Research was based on responses from 540 corporate users of flexible space from financial services (38%), real estate (36%) and consulting services (21%), among others. Companies interviewed include British Land, GSK, RBS, WeWork, Microsoft, Vodafone, HSBC and Verizon.

For more information, see Gensler’s Research & Insight section.