Is Flex the Future?

GCUC’s Liz Elam shares why the spaces that will thrive in the future are the ones that help humans connect + some tips to get you off on the right foot.

coworking community

What is Flex? According to Cambridge it’s a verb that means “to bend” or “to change something slightly to make it more suitable.”

The real estate world is desperately trying to be flexible and ‘bend’ in order to retain clients. The days of buying a building and carving buildings up into sections and demanding 20 year leases is over. They’re repacking their tired product to make it “more suitable.”

The real estate industry can’t understand the community aspect of coworking, so they have started to utilize the term ‘flex’ to describe offering shorter lease terms.

When I was asked to speak on whether flex is the future, I answered no. It is not. Choice is the future. And COVID was the accelerant that made this fire burn.

Choice is the future. And COVID was the accelerant that made this fire burn.

We as workers are no longer just accepting a soulless office as our workspace. We don’t want to waste our time commuting. COVID taught us we can work from anywhere.

The workers now get to choose where they work and when they work. This is a fundamental shift—for knowledge workers, that is. Working for home is a privilege. Not everyone can do it.

But there is a big problem with home: you’re either home alone or you’re struggling to focus at home. I strongly believe that your home should be your haven, not your workspace. Okay, rant over. Back to the community.

So why can’t the real estate sector just build community? Get ready, this is a four part answer:

1. Anyone can sell a desk. Only with time and attention can one nurture a community.

Building community is not as easy as it looks. You have to have a human element. You have to have a captain of the ship. Community is about helping people connect. Community is about finding common ground. Community is about hosting events that matter. All this takes time and effort.

2. You can’t point to a community, you have to build it.

Community is in the ether. It’s the feeling of belonging when someone knows your name or your birthday or that something important just happened for you. It’s feeling a connection with other humans. It’s a spirit of we’re all in this together.

3. Community is an elusive and special skill that sets coworking apart.

If you want to learn more about the community, you have to go tour some coworking spaces in your area. Look for the ones where people other than the person leading the tour pipe up to tell you about the space. It’s where you see pockets of people laughing and engaging, maybe in the kitchen, or maybe at a communal table. It’s when you feel people care about a space and how they treat it.

4. You can’t assign a $ value community.

You can ask Adam Neumann; he tried and failed. You can’t buy community. You have to take the time, and have the energy, to build it.

So why am I always harping on coworking?

Coworking has been around for over 13 years now. Coworking operators are different. They understand that community is pivotal to the success of their business and the success of our world. I know it sounds goofy, but hear me out.

We are in a crisis. That crisis is a mental health crisis. If you are reading this then you are breathing which means you know someone struggling with their mental health—maybe you. This could be in the many forms the most common are loneliness, depression, addiction or anxiety. Key elements in combating these include a sense of belonging, a community, feeling seen and connection.

We did the research at GCUC in collaboration with Know Research and here are some of our finding on coworking spaces:

  • 89% of members met other members socially outside of work hours
  • 85% turn to other members for guidance or support

The top benefit coworking members receive is the opportunity to connect with other members both for work networking and social opportunities

Also from our research in 2015 with Steve King of Emergent Research: 89% of coworkers reported being happier.

Companies can literally drop their employees off into coworking and we’ll take care of them. It’s that simple.

Some companies that understand community: Industrious, Bond Collective, 25N, TOG, Working From, Hub Australia, Mindspace and Vari to name a few.

The spaces that will thrive in the future are the ones that help humans connect. Call it whatever you want.

Some hints on getting started:

  • Redesign your space to include areas for collaboration and heads down work
  • Be better than home
  • Offer things people loved about working from home (monitors, snacks, ring lights)
  • What amenities would you love to have?
  • Next level your events
  • Conduct regular research

If you would like to learn more, join us this spring at GCUC North America (location and date coming soon). Or simply join the GCUC community where you can connect 24/7/365. 

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