The flexible workplace revolution

The office isn’t dead yet. Even in the age of remote and hybrid working, companies will still need offices, but they may not be their own offices. Flexible working could bring a change to who owns the office.

The workspace has been transformed in the last 24 months, bringing new players into the office space market that was once dominated primarily by large commercial real estate companies. New players are looking to capitalize on the move to more long-term, hybrid-working set-ups. Large multinationals such as BP, Ford, American Express and JP Morgan Chase are adopting hybrid-working models alongside start-ups to give employees a better work-life balance.

Reimaging the office and its location

In the UK, multinational Tesco has teamed up with office operator Regus to offer flexible working within one of its supermarket sites. The link-up emerges as supermarkets look at new ways to get the most out of unused commercial space. Also in the UK, electrical retailer Currys has gone as far as closing its head office and enabling its 1,400 staff to work at 50 WeWork facilities.

More recently, commercial real estate company CBRE has increased its stake in U.S. flexible-office provider Industrious in a bid to capture a growing share of the flexible office space market as enterprises rethink their real estate strategies. Industrious recently acquired The Great Room in Asia and Welkin & Meraki in Europe, adding one million square feet to its flexible-office locations portfolio.

Back to the office – sort of

Interest in office space has started to rebound. But instead of traditional office spaces, enterprises are looking at shared or flexi-spaces to accommodate the trend for hybrid working and hot-desking. According to a recent study by JLL, 67% of commercial real estate decision makers are increasing workplace mobility programs. They include flexible space as a central element of their agile work strategies as increasingly knowledgeable workers seek roles that offer remote and flexible work practices. It forecasts that 30% of all office space will be consumed flexibly by 2030.

Flexibility is what workers want. According to Gartner's research, 75% of hybrid or remote knowledge workers say their expectations for working flexibly have increased. In addition, four out of ten employees said they would consider leaving their roles if their employer insists on a return to an in-person environment.

An effective hybrid work scheme can make employees more productive, offer a better work-life balance and potentially cut back on overhead. But IT departments face issues in supporting workers in flexible work patterns. Workers need to work seamlessly between office and home, for example, so security measures need to be put in place to ensure system and data integrity.

Flexible working needs principles

The physical flexible workspace is only the first step, according to Gartner. Any enterprise that is looking to re-develop a new flexible work policy needs to set out principles that are easily communicable across the organization. From an IT perspective, this includes identifying equipment, materials and resources provided to support the onsite and remote workers. From a security and confidentiality standpoint, it also needs to include network and security access.

“An office-centric or location-centric design is focused on keeping people in that controlled environment and making the best of that. A human-centric design is focused on allowing individuals to do the best work they can under the best conditions and giving them choices to make that happen,” explains Suzanne Adnams, Managing Vice President at Gartner. This includes technology provisioning.

“What is going to provide the best high-value employee experience, help retain an important workforce and recruit others? What are these key differentiators going to be?” adds Adnams, who says this is a big challenge for enterprises.

Securing the flexible workplace

Privacy and data security are major concerns for any enterprise considering a flexible workplace. Malicious, compromised and negligent users are a growing risk, according to The Ponemon Institute. Over the past two years, the frequency of insider threats has risen by 44%. The time to contain insider threat incidents has increased from 77 to 85 days. Insider threats that take more than 90 days to contain cost organizations $17.9 million on an annualized basis.

Having a robust and secure cloud infrastructure is imperative. It should allow users to log in from anywhere, anytime and on any device. This begins with deploying the right technologies: a cloud-based infrastructure enhances collaboration and data flow while keeping information as secure as possible at rest and in transit.

Dispersed workforces put huge pressure on IT teams to secure network infrastructures. Network-centric approaches don’t work when there are so many endpoints. This is where the zero-trust concept of “never trust, always verify” comes in: all users, devices and networks are treated as malicious until proven otherwise. In practice, this means using multifactor authentication or password-less authentication for users. In the latter, the user provides some other form of identification, such as a fingerprint or hardware token code.

Rethinking the workplace

The return to the office has enabled both enterprises and employees to reinvent the traditional office space.

The future of the workplace is one that is flexible, productive and cost effective for business, turning unused desks into hot-desk opportunities and changing meeting rooms into collaborative and creative spaces for both virtual and face-to-face interactions.

The right technology deployed in the right way to support your workforce is vital to keep up with the pace. Find out how we can help you with your flexible workspace requirements here.

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.