Flexible workspaces are flourishing and to a large degree have been driven by the changing expectations of companies and indeed their workforces – they have created a new phenomenon called space-as-a-service market. In fact, over the past few years we have witnessed the emergence of flexible office solutions such as co-working spaces, innovation hubs, science parks and executive suites. Companies such as WeWork, the Impact Hub or Techspace are examples in a sector which is growing – attracting both small and large entrants.
More than ever before there is a willingness to be flexible, consume services on-demand and work in new and innovative ways. Indeed, Millennial employees thrive in highly collaborative and tech savvy workplaces and value those types of environments when choosing where to work. In response, many organisations are shifting away from traditional offices environments to more innovative workplaces, seeking to incorporate the values of the new generation.
It is not only large companies who see the benefit in new workplaces. The space-as-a-service industry is also supporting the new independent economy. Start-ups – empowered by technology, are agile and have the ability to compete with large enterprises in an unprecedented way and they don’t need the traditional office buildings to do so!
But, aside from the funky, sometimes slick aesthetics of innovative workspaces they need systems, processes, and technology to support the complexity of their business and ultimately provide workers who access their spaces with everything they need to be productive.
Essensys understands that high performing and reliable technology is the cornerstone of a successful workspace and has developed a platform for workspace companies that is available on demand, anywhere in the world. Since 2006, when Essensys was founded, the company has been obsessive about the use of technology in shared working environments. I interviewed Essensys’ Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Eveleigh (pictured right), to explore how their platform changes the way workspaces operate. Ultimately, allowing them to deliver the best experience in-house and online to their members.
Gloria Lombardi: What does the Essensys platform do for workspace operators?
Stephen Eveleigh: Essensys is absolutely focused on the space-as-a-service market. Ten years ago our founder Mark Furness identified a clear problem that workspace operators had. Their customers demanded technology services including the infrastructure to run their businesses, or the network and voice capabilities. Workspace operators were set the challenge to deliver those services on behalf of their members. But many of them found it both challenging and costly because it was not their area of expertise. So, Essensys created a platform whereby workspace operators could connect their locations and deliver technology services to their members in a very automated fashion. We provided them with an interface that made the administration of those services very simple and straightforward so that they did not necessarily need in-house IT expertise.
Today, our platform help workspace operators with the process of automating the delivery of the technology and processes – from community management to online payments, workflow management, global directory, secure Wi-Fi and virtual reception control.
GL: What are the drivers of the space-as-a-service market?
SE: On the one hand, small businesses are emerging. They want to be seen as credible as large enterprises; they want the presence and the glamorous office spaces that corporates have. The sharing economy is also emerging. Recent research indicates that 4.6 million people in the United Kingdom alone are now self-employed – the highest number since records began. The rise of independent businesses demonstrates a significant structural change in our economy. This trend is being driven predominantly in the United Kingdom and the United States and is growing trend in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
On the other hand, large enterprises are asking their employees to work in a collaborative, creative, and agile way as small businesses do. So, even enterprises are making the step into the flexible workspace market. The modern day descendants of serviced office centers continue to play a significant role; once the domain of only smaller start-ups they are now increasingly seen as an essential resource for larger established businesses and corporates looking to scale up quickly, either for project work or overflow space.
The digital natives coming into the workplace are another driver. They want significant flexibility in working hours and location, with many workers viewing work and life as interwoven.
So, the space-as-a-service market has developed a wide range of sophisticated, flexible office offerings to meet the change in demand and is increasingly seeing growth in demand from other areas. For example, incubation areas, research centres, and multi-tenant offices.
GL: In which ways is technology impacting on the experience that flexible workspaces deliver?
SE: Having the network infrastructure that is capable of supporting all the applications been used by their members is the minimum expectation that workspace operators have today. If you think about the changes that have happened in our economy over the last decade, you don’t see many businesses anymore that you cannot class as digital in some way. In fact, most organisations have a digital element whether it is a front-office or a back-office service. That means that they have a high expectation on the infrastructure that underpins those services. It goes without saying, without connectivity to the Internet, for example, they cannot work or serve their members effectively; without VOIP they cannot interact with each other.
When you look at the way in which people work today – it is far more collaborative than it was in the past. Having social interactions, such as video voice calls in groups, are now a given expectation for people working both inside enterprises and in flexible workspaces. That trend is only going to grow. As more Millennials are coming into the workforce, the expectation around technology that underpins the daily life of work is going to become more fundamental.
And, work technology is not only consumed in the office but outside of the physical workspace as well. We see a growing trend whereby employees start to blur the line between home-life and work-life: people work in the evening; they work at the weekend; and they want flexibility around the location they work in. Flexible workspaces need to provide the services that match that level of experience.
GL: What are the latest trends when it comes to applying technology to enhance the experience of a workspace?
SE: Workspace operators across the globe are using technology to change the way in which they operate. A big part of that is around creating a social experience for the people who consume their sites. In fact, the biggest trend that we see from our customers is the ability to complement the experience of the physical space with the same experience online. They often build an online community and encourage their members to be active and interactive. By using a community app, people communicate, share business ideas with each other, and collaborate together across the different locations of the workspace operator.
On top of that, operators are trying to build far more flexibility within their workspaces. For example, by using our platform they have a real-time view of all their meeting rooms, desks inventory, and software inventory, which is all the additional services that they are offering on top of their physical workspaces. So, their members can log on in the morning, or pick up an app and book a meeting room or a desk per one day. Interestingly, we have one operator who provides dog walking services for their members! We help them to build those services and manage the booking system. Other providers use the platform to manage events or catering services, for example.
The trend around the Internet of Things is also growing. The aim is to deliver a sleek experience in the workplace. For example, you may come to our office. I can book you in. You get an email invite to download an app on your phone. When you arrive at the reception area of the office, you don’t have to speak to anybody. You can just walk through the front door. Your mobile device will let you in with your security pass, and tells you which meeting room you have to go. Those technologies make the experience of the workspace a lot sleeker.
GL: Are there some industries more advanced than others with regards to making use of flexible office spaces?
ES: Flexible workspaces are definitely the natural home for technology and creative businesses. For technology businesses, that is just part of the culture and DNA of their industry. And from a creative industry perspective, workers have an expectation of wanting to be in that sort of innovative environments. For example, one of our customers in Manhattan is in the theatre industry – their office space is filled with producers.
However, the trend is not limited to those sectors. In fact, the important role of space-as-a-service operators is to really understand their customers, the types of workers wanting to use their spaces. As the market grows and becomes far more competitive, it is going to be very important for workspace operators to select the right locations for their target market and the right additional technology services. In fact, we take it from granted that we sit at desks in a flexible environment. But workspaces operators need the technology to manage that environment in the most effective way. They need the right processes, systems, software as well as the right people and places to deliver that experience successfully.
The challenge for them is to offer those services digitally, quickly, and correctly – that is what the Essensys platform is able to address.