Should you ditch the office for a WeWork?

Business leaders say no, so Management Today finds out why the office is here to stay.

by Orianna Rosa Royle
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2020

Before the pandemic hit, co-working companies like WeWork provided a small but growing proportion of the UK's office needs, driven largely by the rise of freelancing, hot-desking and SMEs.

With uncertainty ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shorter-term contracts might make more financial sense than committing to a long-term office lease.

At the same time, the multi-location offering of WeWork and its peers could help attract talent across the country if businesses move away from major - and expensive - urban centres. 

Management Today’s own research found that employers are responding to the call for localism. However, the need for local offices could be answered by having a network of regional hub offices and a smaller central location, instead of subscribing to a co-working space.

Also with flexible workplace policies resulting in reduced headcount, businesses can now reconfigure their own offices to offer hot-desking and areas for collaboration - emulating snazzy co-working spaces at a lower long-term cost. 

We find out why, despite the increased interest in WeWork style solutions, leaders won’t be ditching the office.

Nigel Davies, founder, Claromentis

Our team has always had the choice of where they work from, so before the pandemic most split their time equally between home and work. Some based themselves in the office Monday to Friday: they simply preferred not to work where they live. We’ll continue to lease office space so that when some normality returns we’ll have that choice once again. There’s no way we’d go down the serviced office route because it’s just not practical for a growing company of 40. The expense would be colossal.

Mike Hampson, CEO, Bishopsgate Financial

With no end to the pandemic insight, we continue to work remotely and have no plans to commit to a 'WeWork' option. In many ways, they have priced themselves out of the market. Our needs will be occasional touch-down lounge spaces to be used by our team as one-off meeting spaces when they are 'in town'. These can be secured at a competitive price from multiple suppliers. Several hotels and pubs are now offering remote working options to entice the work-from-home crowd and bring in much-needed revenue. The space WeWork operates in will now have more competition than ever before.

Charlie Carpenter, CEO, Creativebrief

We won’t be in a hurry to ditch the office as we look to the months and years ahead. We operate in a curious and creative industry that places huge importance on the value of communication. Ultimately that is best served by being together, by serendipitous interactions and by listening, talking and engaging in ways that simply can’t be replicated on a screen. But we have also learned a lot. Specifically, in almost all cases the mental health and wellbeing of staff is not best served either by being 100 per cent in the office or 100 per cent at home. It’s true that as a result in future our office space will be used differently: as a more fluid environment for meetings, wider team interactions and intense projects in discrete time frames. But we’re also building a culture that we want all to contribute to and to be proud of, and our belief is that culture is more tangible and definable in a space we can call our own.

Phil Chambers, CEO, Peakon

No. We still see a place for our offices in the future – but the role of the office has evolved. We surveyed our people to explore exactly what they wanted from the future of work. Three quarters of our employees envisioned greater flexibility, while two thirds also said they believe offices are essential for idea generation, connectivity, and innovation. To satisfy their range of needs, we’ve opted for a hybrid working model, which offers people freedom and flexibility within a consistent framework. We will be optimising our office spaces for collaboration, social interactions, team planning, and creative processes. And when government guidance permits, we will ask employees to come in for around two days a week, or when these activities are on their agendas. 

Irene Molodtsov, CEO, Sia Partners UK & IE

We’re keeping our offices, but they will be reconfigured and re-purposed to reflect the changes in how we work - our very own WeWork style solution. In the long-term, our employees may wish to work from home (or elsewhere) for part of the week. Prior to COVID, offices served primarily as spaces focused on individual work spaces. With flexible working reducing office occupancy to around 50 per cent, more office space can be dedicated to collaborative meeting areas. From in-person brainstorms to big project kick-offs, face-to-face collaboration is great for creativity and intense bursts of energy. The office also plays an essential supportive role in terms of development and mentorship for juniors, and also our mental health.  

Simon Aldous, UK site lead, Dropbox

No. We had reservations over the default options of either going fully remote or offering a hybrid approach. The first can discard all the cultural and collaboration benefits of the office, while hybrid approaches may ultimately divide employees into those who prefer being in the office and those who do not. Instead, we have developed a virtual first approach. Employees will conduct all individual work remotely, whilst we are making plans for Dropbox Studios — collaboration spaces where employees can engage in team meetings or large group events instead of everyday solo work, with no individual desks.

Chris Holmes, managing partner, Brandpie

For us, the question goes deeper than an office versus a WeWork type solution. WeWork has added extras, but it still fundamentally involves people going into an office to perform traditional ‘work’ tasks. Our research shows that the idea of going into any space to ‘work’ isn’t what people want. It’s more about ditching the old ways of working associated with offices – task based, individual actions, the activity that doesn’t need an office.

However, it’s clear that people do want a space to brainstorm, share ideas, challenge each other and gain different perspectives. So that’s the real question – it’s not an office or a WeWork solution, it’s thinking about the tasks we do, the outputs we want and what space will help us achieve them (a mix of home working and a social, creative space that doesn’t look like an office).

Dmytro Okunyev, founder, Chanty

We were considering it for a bit before we had the whole company go remote. We then realised that we function incredibly well in a remote setting and that we can continue working remotely for as long as possible. At the moment we are using a hybrid model where about 70 per cent of us work remotely and the rest of us are at the office. So the most likely outcome is that we get a smaller office and the majority of the team will continue working remotely.

Image credit: Scott Olson via Getty Images

Orianna Rosa Royle

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