The next workplace

The global debate on how the world of work will change continues to build up steam. Camps are forming, both among employer groups and the employed public. There’s certainly an opportunity to change the work habits of nearly two centuries, but how radical that change will be is anyone’s guess.

The boss of the world’s biggest serviced office company has said he could open centres in county towns and rural locations as people choose to move away from cities permanently. Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG, is convinced that the world of work has changed forever as a result of the pandemic, marking the end of the large corporate headquarters where thousands work for one company in one expensive location.

His group, which operates the Regus and Spaces serviced office brands, is expanding its franchising model, which allows companies to use its brand and office services without IWG taking on a lease. He hopes the model will spur rapid expansion of the group. Regus has a presence now in 21 African countries and 3600 sites worldwide.

“People are moving to nice places to live because they know they can work from there. They think that there’s a future of not having to go to the office every day,” he says. He adds that companies that fail to offer flexible working arrangements will find it “more difficult to hire the right people”.

Dixon’s view is UK-centric, but even in that market it comes up against another school of thought. British property developers, betting on future demand for office space in the City of London – and with some justification. In 2021 to date, The City of London Corporation has given planning consent to the equivalent of 80% of the total office floorspace it approved for the whole of last year. A whopping 2 million sq ft of prime office floorspace in one of the most expensive locations on the planet. All new developments are making a point of advertising health and wellness benefits and offering break-out and flexible spaces to cater for anticipated demand in the post-pandemic workplace.

America is also considering how to handle working away from headquarters. Some businesses are making the mistake of lowering pay scales for staff who intend to live outside major cities. Cost of living may be cheaper, but valuable employees aren’t likely to swallow reductions. Josh Bersin, HR industry analyst, comments: “If you have an engineer making $150,000 in San Francisco pick up and move to Montana, and now you’re going to pay him $120,000, what is that guy going to do? Look for another job.”