The good news is that we have now been through a massive work from home experiment and it has accelerated change across key areas ripe for disruption.
We’re also enduring a global pandemic. Let’s not understate the importance of a new day. We’re the lucky ones. Soak that up.
Okay, now that I’ve done some level-setting gratitude. Let’s talk about 2021.
Things will not magically get better on January 1st, but we will have a new attitude and fresh enthusiasm for change. Hopefully a vaccine will be rolled out, or about to be, rolled out. We will need the spring to get the vaccinations flowing and we can look forward to things getting back to the new normal over the summer. I think as things become more normalized we’ll see a renewed desire to travel, but that is yet to be seen as we can’t anticipate how the world will handle vaccines and how the airline industry will weather the storm.
We have new terms: Dynamic work, flexible work, virtual strategy, space as a service, WFA etc. etc. The nomenclature doesn’t matter. The root of the change does. The power of where we work has moved from employer to the worker. Clearly, the worker will still have to follow what the employer asks, but the employee can always vote with their feet and as we learned for the millennials, they will.
The future is changing because workers have choice. This is ushering in the fourth industrial revolution, which I’ve been calling this the human revolution for years. This is being brought on by the changing nature of work, not technology.
Before the pandemic, the biggest challenge for CEOs globally was talent attraction and retraction. I believe health will take that spot post-pandemic due to COVID, then it will return to talent. With the implementation of artificial intelligence across industries, creative thinking will become increasingly valuable. Keeping employees happy, healthy and inspired will be key. Companies will look for spaces that are easy to engage with that are safe, secure and support the wellness and productivity of their employees.
As we transition to the new normal, we will see an unprecedented return to shared workspace. Why? Working from home can be very distracting, lonely and uninspired. Even if your company doesn’t want you to come back to the office, some employees will simply choose to find alternatives. The vast majority of the growth will come from corporations which have decided, en masse, to tell their workers to stay home.
Sending everyone home is a short sighted strategy. Humans not only need human connection, they literally are dying for it. Mental health issues are going through the roof and they were already the most expensive health care line item for all companies globally pre-COVID. It isn’t obesity or addiction that is killing us, making us call in sick and compounding our stress. It’s depression.
As real estate struggles to cope with the new normal, we will see lots of commercial real estate vacancies. Landlords and developers will look to enter the market with “flexible” space solutions. They will quickly find out why they should stay with their core competency.
Entering a new market is costly and complicated, not to mention that humans are complex animals and require a lot of care. Successful real estate companies will either do their homework to understand the human element, or they will partner with existing workspace brands.
Along those lines, I don’t see enough coworking brands poised for growth. They’re either not interested or not ready. We are already seeing many enterprising entrepreneurs opening new companies to enter that opportunity zone. There simply aren’t enough coworking brands ready for the demand coming their way.
If a coworking brand was in trouble before COVID, they’re now out of business. If a coworking space navigated this crazy time, they will have plenty of opportunity and most likely a waitlist. Suburbs and rural space are particularly well-positioned as people do not want to commute very far.
Corporations will roll out new workplace strategies across the board. I believe most will do a combination of work from home, meetings at the office and third places (coworking, Flex, SaaS, etc.) We will also see corporations roll out their own internal coworking brands (as dropbox has done.)
Design will change. Offices will be less dense. Open space will be physically distanced. We will see more spaces that are focused on what people are looking to accomplish rather than what they’re doing. For example we will be calling conference rooms; project rooms. Instead of a meeting room, it could be a team collaboration room.
Within spaces, we will see a renewed focus on health and weIllness, an accelerating trend I’ve seen coming for years. Smart operators will upgrade their air systems. Technology companies will scramble to deliver products that monitor temperature and air quality. We will continue to see an emphasis on natural lighting, biophilia and bringing nature into spaces.
“Transactional” and “frictionless” are terms you will hear frequently. As workers look for places to land and get busy, they want it to be easy and with minimal touches.
Technology companies that help people get in and get to work will win. Aggregators that help employees find spaces, such as Liquidspace, Deskpass and Upflex, will thrive. I’m already seeing real estate companies line up behind them. My prediction is that many of them will be bought by those real estate companies.
Community and coworking will win. Coworking operators are one of the most agile and organized groups of independent business owners I’ve ever experienced. We believe in collaboration over competition, so we share our knowledge and experiences. We help each other and lift each other up.
When large companies offer “flexible space as a service” that is exactly what people will get: a space offering a service. In a coworking space, however, you become part of a community within a supportive and inclusive space where you can accomplish your work. People are leaving their homes because they need to focus and stay inspired, but more importantly, they need connection with other humans. Coworking provides this.
GCUC will continue to advocate for our global community of dreamers, doers and builders making it happen day-in and day-out. We are about to skyrocket up that bell curve I’ve been showing you since 2012. Get ready, friends. In the words of my Dad, “We’re about to take a drink from a firehose.”
Are you ready to thrive? Do you need help launching or growing your brand? Are you struggling to find the new strategy for your company? I can help. Contact me to schedule a consultation.
Peace – Liz Elam