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What is a “workspace”?

We will consider the meaning of "workspace" which refers to the blurring of boundaries between our digital and physical working locations.
© University of Exeter

Next we will consider the increasing blurring of boundaries between digital and physical workspaces.

We could argue that in today’s world of connectivity and cloud-based data storage, expensive physical office space is no longer necessary. Some businesses operate entirely virtually with staff based all over the world, meaning that they are able to cover every time zone in their interactions with customers, for example.

But demand for co-working physical space has never been higher, providing a space to meet clients, network with fellow professionals. According to a co-working report by Cushman Wakefield, 18% of all central London office space in 2018 was let to workspace providers, nearly three times the amount of 2016.

There is also growing demand from around the country, with two thirds of the UK flexible workspace market now outside of London. Take-up in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, and Newcastle increased to 7.5% of all city centre lettings from just 2% in 2016. A significant factor has been the growth of companies such as WeWork and Spaces, which together accounted for over 50% of the UK’s take-up of co-working space last year.

This fascinating article from the New York Times focuses on the expansion of WeWork in New York. It explores whether or not the company’s ambitions for the future of work justify its huge valuation. It also includes interviews with the founders and outlines their plans for the future.

“WeWork isn’t really a real estate company. It’s a state of consciousness…a generation of interconnected emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs.”

As an illustration of how quickly fortunes can change, a quick google of “WeWork” today will highlight a very different picture just two years on from the publication of the NYT article. Adam Neumann (founder and CEO) has left the company, along with more than half the workforce. But despite the move to home working prompted by covid19 in 2020, the fortunes of WeWork now appear to be rising again…

While the majority of demand for flexible workspaces currently comes from start up businesses due to the cost advantages, growth in letting to larger organisations is also predicted as they develop more innovative and flexible working cultures. In the next 10 years, the report suggests that 10% of the commercial letting market will be represented by flexible workspaces:

“While offices have been the traditional source of space, pubs, hotels and libraries are increasingly of interest to flexible space providers, building on the popularity of coffee shops and cafes as flexible workspaces. Any brick-and-mortar business that is vacant for a period during the day could be utilised for flexible working, and the availability of vacant retail units could see co-working become a fixture of high streets across the UK.”

An interesting example is the Ministry of Sound which made its name as a nightclub in the 1990s. It recently opened its first shared workspace in London’s Elephant and Castle district called The Ministry. Services include a daily yoga class and 30% of the ingredients used in the restaurants and bars are vegan.

Is this really the future of office work? Add your views in the comments section below.

© University of Exeter
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