Hospitality and people-centric flex workspaces attract and retain workers

by Helena Morgan
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It’s no secret that office occupancy rates are waning and employers are scrambling to devise new and original ways to incentivise people coming into the office even if only for three days. Flex – or co-working – spaces loom like viable options on the horizon for businesses eager to ditch the traditional office model and work within a wide and exciting ecosystem.  

CBRE head of experiences Iris Comper believes a successful flex-working space is hospitality-led and grounded in a warm, inviting and people-centric tone.

Comper has observed people wanting their office to offer something bigger than daily meetings, the satisfaction derived from achieving weekly KPIs, and relishing Friday night knock-offs. 

People want to feel as if they belong to a nurturing and supportive community, even if they are one of 500 employees. She advocates for attitudinal change in office culture discourse and believes companies would be wise to reframe the belief that an office building is a commodity to be monetised, and instead focus on how hospitality-led services can entice and retain talent. 

“You need to provide inspiration. Everyone wants to be inspired. I think that’s what we need to create in our workplaces,” says Comper. 

“It’s about how you make people feel when they visit a space.”

An experience you don’t want to leave 

Comper’s role at CBRE sees her attend to hospitality services, lobby concierge and placemaking services in crafting an experience that people will crave coming back to – whether an office space, a residential building or a shopping centre. 

Facility Management’s coverage of experiential design via the lens of Annis Adler at TURNER resonates with Comper’s pursuit towards providing exemplary experiences.  Simple yet powerful signage, brand placement and wayfinding are capable of creating a rich and memorable user experience. 

Comper says the concept of experiential design is far from new in the commercial leasing historical timeline. 

“I think what’s new is the importance people and businesses put on [experiential design] – it’s driving a lot of decisions,” says Comper. Experiential design and hospitality-led services allow for a space to leave a lasting impression on the user.

Comper believes workspaces should make people feel inspired.

 

Monetising the vibe 

Comper is having more conversations with landlords who are eager to frame a building or facility as more than a commodity. Facilities and operations managers are intrigued by how hospitality-led services can assist in elevating the experience of a space, and thereby encourage people to return.

“You need to provide an experience for people to come into the office or to come to shop – you need to incentivise,” says Comper. 

She reports some people in the property management space cite hesitancy towards embracing experiential design as they are stumped on where profit will come from. The monetary reward is not always immediate and it is difficult to quantify rewards and gain. 

“They have a hard time sometimes getting their head around why the vibe is important – how do you monetise the vibe?” shares Comper.

In responding to this conundrum, Comper points to the insight and perceptiveness of flex workspace operators, as they had fingers on the pulse long before flex working was a buzzword in office culture discourse.

The case for hospitality-led flex workspaces

If a workspace is looking to provide flexible working solutions, Comper says inserting hospitality into a space is essential, and can be achieved through encouraging partnerships with hotel or restaurant groups. 

Cross-disciplinary collaboration via partnerships between restaurants and office buildings allows for a myriad of opportunities and possibilities. Something as simple as an on-site cafe can entice people to come into the office.

Hospitality-led flex workspaces enable workers to feel appreciated, cherished and valued within the space. “Hospitality definitely needs to be part of your main considerations because everyone wants to feel like a guest,” says Comper. 

As mentioned, Comper argues for attitudinal change in office culture discourse, as it will alter expectations of a workspace. “They’re not occupiers or tenants – they’re guests.”

People-centric office management is paramount and breeds compassion, empathy and attentiveness to flourish – qualities that are regularly deemed as essential in facilities and operations management via ‘How I Got Here’ and ‘Meet Your Local FM.’ 

A successful flex workspace also encourages constant check-ins to ensure users of the space – whether long-term or short-term – are heard and seen. Additionally, Comper maintains that igniting passion and pride towards a workspace is mandatory, and the way to do this is to create energised spaces through experiential design.

“If your employees are engaged and have clear directions of where they’re going, they are going to feel supported,” she says.

A successful flex workspace also encourages constant check-ins to ensure users of the space – whether long-term or short-term – are heard and seen

Working towards a common and non-work-related goal 

Some are fearful flexible working solutions will hinder productivity and focus, yet Comper is one of the many voices in the industry that rejects this assessment. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen people’s productivity go down because they’re in a flex space,” she says. “I think it’s the opposite because they feel that they are part of something.”

Flexible working paves the way for a strong company identity as it allows people to participate in something beyond the standard workplace narrative of polite nods and lacklustre coffee. The collective strive towards goals that aren’t work-related, such as group sport and trivia games, is important, alongside socialising with different industries.

“People have realised by talking to their teams that they want to be part of something bigger,” says Comper. 

“Employees want to know that they can come in, get their coffee straight away when they arrive on their floor, conveniently book an amenity such as the podcast room and have a lunchtime conversation with someone that works in a completely different industry.”

Important purpose in a large ecosystem 

Comper has witnessed particularly post-lockdown companies reaping the plentiful rewards of downsizing as part of flex working – transferring from a 3000 square-metre office space a trek away from the CBD and moving teams to a 500 square-metre space within a flex workspace operator. 

As outlined, interaction with other industries is guaranteed – inserting variety, change and excitement into the day to avoid monotony and numbing regularity. 

“It will just feel more like a community and more like an engaging space,” says Comper. She notices an undeniable lift in office mood and temperament at a flex space. “I’ve worked for two flex workspace operators and it’s just a different vibe.”

She says companies can be absolved from the responsibility of creating a community when under a flex workspace operator, as it is the operator’s role to develop the vibe and atmosphere and meet employee satisfaction.

“They don’t have to worry about organising the drinks and the team building because there’s a programme of activities,” says Comper.

Flexible working paves the way for a strong company identity as it allows people to participate in something beyond the standard workplace narrative of polite nods and lacklustre coffee.

A strong sense of self

Successful flex workspaces also have a tight grasp on market positioning, alongside an intact company identity, and the willingness to improvise and adapt.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all option or a cookie-cutter success plan,” says Comper. 

She speaks of the power and necessity of a workspace knowing its purpose and target audience. “There’s boutique flex operators that are doing really well because they’re very specific – there’s one operator that focuses on hairdressers, another on tradespeople,” says Comper. 

Comper emphasises the value of smaller companies functioning as flex spaces in comparison to companies with more employees.

“As soon as you go over a few thousand square meters, it becomes hard to generate the profitability that you need to generate in those spaces.”

Successful flex workspaces owed to appropriate assets

Comper believes selecting the right assets from the start such as proximity to public transport and food and beverage offerings is an airtight way to ensure the rollout of a successful flex workspace. Understanding employee schedules, routines and habits means employers can anticipate the layout of the working week and how many bodies will be in chairs. 

“A lot of companies decide to move closer to the city and provide certain amenities for their employees and take a smaller office for maybe seven desks, only because you know that no one’s going to be in the office every single day,” she says.

“If there’s some days when everyone is in the office, flex operators have open workspaces where people can take their laptop and work. You pay for a smaller space, but you get so many more amenities and services.”

Comper is confident flex spaces are here to stay and no longer synonymous with start-up culture and a niche way of working.

Location, location, location 

A flex workspace isolated in the suburbs and far removed from shopping centres, public transport, food options and pharmacies is ineffective. “You don’t want to open a flex workspace in the middle of nothing,” says Comper. 

She predicts more regional-based flex operators such as Wotso emerging, as people in suburban areas, away from the hustle-and-bustle of city life, crave a sense of connection and community. “Wotso understands the market very well,” she says. 

The hub and spoke model for flex spaces is gaining traction – this model relies on a ‘hub’ operating as a headquarters in the CBD with smaller ‘spoke’ workspaces distributed in regional areas. Comper says the instance of flex working spaces operating in collaboration with shopping centres demonstrates a tight grasp on selecting appropriate assets.

“Vicinity in Victoria has turned retail spaces that are underperforming into flex workspaces,” says Comper.

Normalising flex workspaces 

Comper is confident flex spaces are here to stay and no longer synonymous with start-up culture and a niche way of working. “Flex workspaces are here to develop and increase and eventually normalise,” she says.

She predicts hospitality-led flex spaces evolving as the ideal prototype and even traditional workspaces absorbing elements of hospitality-led services. 

Landlords of numerous facilities are expressing interest in crafting experiences that reflect a company or building ethos. “Landlords are developing their flex offering and evolving what flex means for them by creating a brand around their amenities,” says Comper.

Flexible workspaces and solutions are ultimately a reliable way to future-proof, build resilience and strength, and further define a company’s purpose and contribution to society.

Flexible working is reliant on trust.

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