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‘Co-working is the future’: Shared office spaces could transform the post-COVID workplace

As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out across the world and case counts are waning in many countries, businesses and their employees are cautiously poking their heads out of work-from-home setups and wondering what kinds of offices — if any — are waiting for them after the pandemic.


A number of major companies in South Africa have made their intentions clear already, setting the tone of the conversation. Some have mandated a full return to the office for employees while others have abandoned their offices in favour of a remote-only workforce.


But as vaccine protection increases and the debate rages over the future of work, some companies are finding opportunity in playing the middle ground with a more “flexible” approach to the office — through co-working and virtual offices.


Co-working or shared workspaces vary from office to office, but the typical format sees a large space occupied by a number of companies but fit-up and managed by a single provider.


Some spaces are wide open with a series of long desks and some offer semi-private offices. Many providers target standalone remote workers or fledgling startups looking for a like-minded community. Terms on co-working agreements are typically less restrictive, in some cases a year or less, than traditional leases with a commercial landlord.


Before the pandemic, a typical company would hold a traditional lease for an office. A return to a long-term lease after months spent working remotely, however, has become increasingly unattractive for companies.


The uncertainty around the pandemic, future expansions or contractions of staff and the desire to bump into people in entirely unrelated fields drives forward thinking companies to start considering co-working as a realistic option.


The opinion of some managers are: “We know things are going to change. We know we’re not going to be in the same spot, even in a few years, as we are now. So going into a co-working space also offers the flexibility for us to change. I think that the future of co-working is the future of work, in many respects.”


A survey of more than 2,000 Canadian workers released by KPMG LLP in May showed that a majority of those polled (77 per cent) want a mix of both remote and in-office working models after the pandemic ends.


Leigh Harris, a management consultant with KPMG, told Global News that the demand for “hybrid” working models could lead businesses down the co-working route.

Not all companies will want to let go of their real estate portfolios, Harris notes. But companies that can get out of a lease that’s no longer making sense for them post-pandemic might be looking for more flexible space in the near term to gauge their employees’ appetites for a return to the office.


“If you’re the owner of massive real estate… you may want to maximize that. If you’re not, and you’re getting out of leases, then you might be re-examining whether or not you want to make investments or maybe scaling it down and seeing what your next move will be,” she says.


The demand for a hybrid working style could see companies of 30 employees only require 15 desks in an office per day, if certain employees are only coming into the office a few days a week — if at all.


The modular nature of co-working makes it easier for companies to adjust their space needs and scale up or down based on their employees’ interests, which will likely also evolve over time.


How do you accommodate that if you don’t have flexibility?


Co-working is to office space like iTunes was to the music industry. It’s centred around the customer, it’s giving them exactly what they want. Landlords now are starting to realize that these co-working spaces are what the customers want.


There’s still a lot of confusion in the market about what co-working is. There’s a lot of people working from home who don’t realize how easy it is to just pick up for the day and go work in a co-working space.


WorkSmart@15 is the ideal shared office space to suit all your office needs. Situated in the Mzingazi Golf Estate in the suburb of Meerense, Richards Bay, WorkSmart@15 workspaces offer an ideal and much-desired address for your business.


The secure offices have fully serviced single person, furnished lockable office units and dedicated desks in an open plan office with lockable drawers. Facilities include 24 hour access, air-conditioners, high speed internet, boardroom facilities, printers and scanners, a dedicated telephone number, kitchenette and an on site receptionist, just to name a few.