The impact of new employee expectations

Tim Harrup

A recent survey by remote working specialist IWG , perhaps still best known for its original product – Regus shared offices, has outlined a number of trends in the future of work. While some of these are being widely recognized, they still have a significant impact on the way companies will need to organize themselves, and this will obviously have an effect on real estate.

Here, we look at two of the key findings which are in one way or another connected to the geography of company locations. Firstly, under the title of ‘Small Towns Boom, Cities Rethink’, IWG has this to say.

A recent IWG poll of Generation Z workers (who are set to make up more than a quarter of the global workforce by 2025) found that 85% want to be able to use an office close to home. In a separate IWG survey, 77% of workers said a place to work closer to home was a must-have for their next job move. Companies are increasingly responding to employee demand for local working and adopting a ‘hub and spoke’ model – downsizing their main office and utilizing satellite offices or flexible workspaces closer to workers’ homes. The trend is mirrored by the growing popularity of the 15-Minute City, a sustainable planning concept in which work, home, shops, entertainment, education and healthcare are all within 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle from where we live. The growth of the neighbourhood office is in turn causing a tectonic shift in urban geography and demography.

In Italy, for example, so-called secondary cities that had previously become little more than dormitory towns for major metropolises are now springing back into life. “Cities like Como and Varese have long been labour pools for Milan,” says Cesare Lanati, CEO of BELL Group, a Milan-based real estate service and development firm and IWG franchise partner. “But now these secondary cities are taking on a significant new role in their own right, because flexible working means workers don’t have to travel to their company headquarters.”

In the coming year, expect our working lives to continue to move inexorably away from major cities. At the same time, cities will be forced to evolve in response to the new working paradigm and the loss of large numbers of workers. “Places like London, whose economy has until now been geared to meet the needs of millions of itinerant office workers, will need to become hubs for collaboration and entertainment,” says IWG founder and CEO Mark Dixon.

Global nomads

A related topic is set out under the heading ‘Work from anywhere’ which will become the reality for more and more workers around the world, finds IWG.

For some, that could simply mean a ‘flexcation’, extending a holiday for a period of days or weeks. But others will be heading abroad on a more permanent basis. According to one estimate, there are currently around 35 million so-called ‘digital nomads’ scattered around the world, travelling from place to place and working remotely. Nearly two thirds of them are aged under 40, so it’s a trend that’s set to grow even further. Research by IWG found that two thirds of workers believe that being able to choose where they work means they can perform better. And forward-thinking employers are responding, with organisations such as Airbnb, Spotify, Australian software company Atlassian, and American media powerhouse Automattic among those that now offer a ‘work from anywhere’ option.

Surveys regularly describe the main challenge for digital nomads and flexcationers as finding a place with a reliable internet connection. On top of that, there’s another practical matter they need to confront: how feasible is it to do your best work while sitting in a noisy café? But at the same time, as humans, we like to be surrounded by others, at least part of the time. The answer for today’s itinerant workers is access to high-quality professional workspaces, business centres and co-working desks. “It makes sense for those who want to experience more of the world while also continuing to work as efficiently and as comfortably as they might previously have done at home, in an office close to home or at a central HQ,” says Dixon.