More at home in the office

Flex and co-working offices
Research by Mindspace and OnePoll shows that for 92 pct of employees, flexibility is what they most expect from the latest work models, so flex office operators are now racing to introduce more employee-friendly solutions

In July this year, CBRE reported in its ‘CEE Office Occupier Sentiment Survey’ that 42 pct of companies operating in the CEE region had reduced their office space over the past three years. Staff reductions, due to, among other things, advances in automation, show that this trend is intensifying. Currently, in only 28 pct of companies does every employee have a desk all to themselves, and CBRE predicts that this ratio will drop to 5 pct in two years’ time. So how can we make sure that office space is best suited to the needs of employees, whose responsibilities and preferences may vary widely?

Just like at home

“The design trends for both classic and flexible offices are very similar,” believes Anna Dul, the leasing manager at Quickwork. “The most modern workspaces are characterised by their ergonomic design as well as the variety of workstations, meeting and video-conferencing rooms, quiet work areas, relaxation zones and kitchens. In flex projects, for example, we rely on mobile solutions that make it easy to rearrange the space. It’s also important to have a transparent room booking system,” she adds. Depending on the operator, however, flex offices differ in regard to their amenities – some companies focus on team building, stimulating their employees’ creativity, and encouraging them to share their experience and views, while others focus on customising the space and introducing technological solutions that improve collaboration

Ewelina Kałużna, the managing director of Business Link and the head of the strategic workplace consulting team at Skanska, highlights similar characteristics. “Out of the key features that differentiate our flex space, there are two main aspects: the ease of modifying the space and the leasing model itself,” she explains. At the same time, she notes that the days of distinctive designs seem to be over. “What we look for in an office is, above all, focus and conditions that are conducive to building relationships. In theory, the space is supposed to promote work, but it should also have an atmosphere similar to the home, which is where we also often work,” she points out. A new term has even been coined – ‘resimercial’, to refer to space that combines the features of both residential and commercial office interiors, which is intended to be comfortable for employees while at the same time meeting a range of their needs. Equally important are the technical facilities that have to be adapted to the specific requirements of the company that uses the office. But do industries exist that are likely to opt for flexible solutions more often than others?

For newcomers and loners

It is well known that flex solutions are used by small businesses and start-ups that do not want (especially at the beginning of their activities) to make long-term commitments as well as by individuals and freelancers in need of professional work space. “For the latter two groups in particular, the big advantage of serviced offices is that they allow them to expand their contacts with other businesses,” notes Anna Dul of Quickwork. However, she points out that there is no rule when it comes to the industries tenants come from. A study by Instant Group published in June 2023, makes it clear that the demand for flexible space is being driven in Poland by the growth of start-ups as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, the business services sector, and also by large corporations and international corporations setting up operations in Poland. According to Newmark, such corporations are already asking about flex office space in small cities and large towns – and this may be due to the pandemic, which resulted in large firms migrating away from major centres. With the spread of remote working, many employees have stayed in the suburbs or in towns and are not planning to change this. “Flexibility is now at a premium – and this has been recognised by investment funds and developers, who are increasingly offering furnished office space in their buildings that can be rented out immediately for periods of six, nine or twelve months. However, these offices come without the service packages typical of flex space,” remarks Joanna Bartoszewicz, a senior adviser in the office tenant representation department at Newmark Polska.

Another group of employees that operators have their eye on are those who mainly work online and use technology extensively. “We have not neglected those who operate in the virtual world – for example, our clients will be able to use a green room for recording podcasts and other audio-visual materials,” reveals Ewelina Kałużna of Business Link.

Nobody surprised by hybrid

Although it is usually regarded as a factor that has slowed down growth, the pandemic has clearly contributed to the boom in the serviced office sector. “The changes to the work regime have proven to be largely beneficial to the sector,” emphasises Ewelina Kałużna, while Anna Dul of Quickwork agrees: “The spread of the hybrid working model has only reinforced the demand for flexible solutions. More and more companies that are looking for expertise are no longer confined to a single location and are happy to use co-working or serviced offices to provide the right working conditions. Companies are also adjusting their policies to meet legal changes governing, for example, remote work. We are clearly seeing that businesses are keen for their employees to return to the office,” she concludes.

Endless flexibility

“Operators’ expansion plans in Kraków, Wrocław and Warsaw suggest that the market will continue to trend upwards in 2023,” predicts Grzegorz Kmiecinski, the senior EMEA client solutions director at The Instant Group, commenting on research published by his company. What would certainly strengthen this market, according to him, is more investment in the sector, especially in regional cities, along with operators increasing the supply of premium space. At the same time, none of those we spoke to is predicting the end of traditional offices. “The two concepts will complement each other well in the future, meeting different needs. Flex space definitely has a lot of potential, and the demand for it is not slowing down,” insists Anna Dul.

“Even before its official opening, our flex space is already 70–80 pct leased. Right now, it is quite difficult to plan several years in advance and, in particular, to estimate the office space that companies will need in the future. Flex space is the answer to such market pressures. During traditional lease negotiations, clients very often ask if the building also offers serviced offices, which, if necessary, will allow them to grow, to work on short-term projects and to organise large events or meetings,” explains Joanna Bartoszewicz. And, as Ewelina Kałużna concludes, the wide range of space on offer benefits all flex users: “Hybrid work has become an integral part of the job market, redefining the way office space is used. Many employees do not want to be tied to their homes and attempt to maintain a certain level of autonomy in terms of how and where they choose to work.”