Flexible Office Space in Austin: Fad or Trend? 

A fad is something that gains instant attention and enthusiasm but lasts for only a short time. A trend, on the other hand, is something that gains momentum over time and can last for a long time or even permanently. Goat yoga was a fad. Yoga pants are a trend. You get the idea.

Thanks to COVID-19, we aren’t sure yet what behaviors and new ways of socializing and working will be fads and which are here to stay. Take flexible office space in Austin. Just a few years ago, shared office space was all the rage, particularly for start-ups who weren’t ready to sign a long-term, pricey lease. A boom in the economy fueled larger companies to keep expanding their square footage to accommodate the increase in their employee base. 

The pandemic has changed everything. Commercial real estate may never look the same again and we will likely see the number of shared office spaces increase. People need their space, more literally than figuratively these days. With social distancing and many preferring to work from home, crowded office spaces are not going to cut it. How long this all lasts, no one yet knows.

Why Companies Are Considering Flexible Office Space In Austin in 2021

Fewer people are going to work since the virus shut everything down. Even with COVID-19 rates of infection decreasing in most areas, people are getting used to this remote working thing. And why not? It gives us greater flexibility, comfort and convenience without the hassle of commuting, office distractions or a drop in productivity (if it’s done right). But here’s the kicker: most people are ready to return to some sense of normalcy.

For those employees who found themselves working remote for the first time or more frequently, it may have been all fun and games when this all began. Now, more than six months later, plenty of people are ready to go back into work. A new Gensler U.S. Work from Home Survey found that only 12 percent of U.S. workers wanted to work from home full-time, with the vast majority saying they want to return but with critical workplace changes (safety-related). Glassdoor reported similar findings, with 72 percent of its 1,100 survey respondents saying they are ready to get back to the office. It looks like the remote honeymoon is over.

It’s up to the company to decide if, when and how employees can return, but things have changed and questions are being raised about whether large office spaces are necessary or remote workers should remain home.

Flexible office space is becoming more popular in Austin to fit the evolving needs of businesses. Even when organizations fully open back up, not all employees want to or need to come back into the office. Having a space that brings people together who want or need to be together, without all of the overhead costs of a large corporate office, sounds pretty good. No long-term lease commitments, no empty desks and unused space. Just pay for what you need in the near-term to maximize your budget and reduce operating costs. With so much still up in the air, a flexible office space gives companies a breather as they wait things out or decide what kind of workplace they want to support going forward. It’s looking more and more that shared office space is becoming a trend that is here for the foreseeable future as it is a viable alternative to traditional office space.

Flexible Office Space vs. Traditional Lease vs. 100% Remote

In a traditional lease, companies commit to an average contract length of 5-10 years. The office space can be built out to fit your needs and with such a long lease term, companies often pay for space they are not yet using but anticipate using as they grow, or they quickly outgrow their space because they paid only for what they needed at the time of the lease signing. Finding the perfect capacity is not always a perfect science.

With COVID, there are still so many questions. Will the virus infection rate continue to trend downwards or will it resurge in the fall and winter months? Will employees still want to come into the office or have reasons why they need to remain remote? Are there employees who are well-suited for staying remote permanently and if so, how many? Will your company grow at its expected rate prior to COVID or will hiring be limited?

All of these questions make it difficult to have any confidence in how much office space you may need over the next year, let alone the next 10 years. Further, many companies are playing catch-up, trying to compensate for the lost revenue they experienced during the initial COVID hit. For them, investing in a large, inflexible office space may not make financial sense anymore. Now that companies have seen that remote working works, they are identifying areas where they can save costs, recognizing that they may not need all of that traditional office space after all.

For companies who want to go 100 percent remote, questions still remain. The Gensler survey found that more than half of respondents say collaborating is more difficult in remote settings and it’s harder to know what team members are working on. Millennials and Gen Z workers say they are less satisfied with working from home and 54 percent say they miss socializing with colleagues. Yes, remote can work, but at what price long term? Perhaps a more flexible work space offers the best of both worlds.

Flexible office space allows companies to determine how much space they need right now and in the few months to come with the ability to adjust their requirements to adapt to changing forces. Those may be changes in the number of people wanting to come into work, changes in the number of employees overall, changes in budgets, or changes in the COVID-19 trajectory. The beauty of shared work space is that it more easily grows or shrinks with your business needs. In Knight Frank 1st Edition Your Space Insights from the Global Workplace report, authors found, “The workplace is becoming a flexible business service that can actively support business growth, rather than a fixed and often (to the occupier) financial onerous physical product.”

Preparing for Downsizing to Flexible Office Space in Austin

For companies now considering relinquishing pricey office space, flexible office space provides a right-sized approach. The Knight Frank report found that 80 percent of companies plan to increase the amount of collaborative space they provide their employees and nearly 70 percent say they will utilize co-working space. Whether your employees are working from home or used to an expansive corporate environment, how do you get your people ready for a potentially seismic shift in their workplace environment?

Assess Current Job Functions Enterprise-wide

It is important to know which job functions lend to flexible office space, which ones work well remotely, and which ones require something more, such as manufacturing, IT or call centers. 

Survey Your Employees

For the job roles that have potential to do well in a shared office space, reach out to those employees to see how many want to return to an office setting right away, as well as who thinks they will want to return over a period of time (typically within your lease agreement timeframe). Since you’re already surveying them, ask why they want to return to an office setting (you can use this data later).

Determine Square Footage Needs

Once you know who will be returning, you can begin looking for the ideal office space and negotiating your contract. Be sure you also consider how many employees could use the shared space for in-person meetings, even if they or you prefer them to work remotely. The shared office space can serve as the central meeting place for employee reviews, regular meetings, team building events or any kind of collaboration needs. You may not need desk space for employees who only come for meetings, but you will want to be sure you have dedicated meeting areas set aside when you look for shared office space so even remote employees can feel connected.

Market It as a Fresh Approach to the Workplace

Change is never easy, but how you deliver the news can make a world of difference. Work with the venue owner to learn about the perks and how they advertise the space. Pull out your employee survey and speak to the reasons they want to return. Highlight the benefits you know will resonate with your employees:

  • Safer, more intimate workspace 
  • Ability to collaborate and socialize in person
  • Flexible office space they can make their own
  • More face-to-face time with team and management
  • Being in same area lends to faster response times
  • Greater visibility into project statuses and team capacity

It’s also wise to discuss the benefits to the company, such as lower operating costs, and how that relates to them. With office space being one of the largest operating expenses a business can have, the less you spend on the lease, the more profitable the company. The more profitable the company, the more income, benefits and perks for employees. Talk about how you are all on one big team and you want to give them safe options to work together.

Remember, renting flexible office space is a win for the company as much as a win for employees who want to get back into the office. By keeping them in the loop as to why the decision was made to downsize to a more flexible office space and selling the shared space as a plus for them, you’ll get faster buy-in. For employees who want to and can stay remote, they have an office hub they can still come to for meetings and socializing. And as your business and employees’ needs change, your flexible office space is more adaptable without you having to take a financial hit.

About Vuka

Vuka began as a small yet mighty idea in a warehouse off of South 1st Street in Austin. With a belief that everyone deserves the space and resources to wake up to their fullest potential, we began designing shared workspaces, programs, and event spaces that inspire and spark change. In Zulu, Vuka means to wake up. It's a verb the symbolizes resurrection and understanding. When we live a life that is more awake, we can be more connected to ourselves and to our communities. We at Vuka are inspired to create space where people can do just that; we provide the space needed to be inspired, to be connected, and to create a better world for everyone. That mighty idea has expanded to two locations in Central Austin that creates, cultivates, and provides dynamically-designed spaces for the community at large. Vuka exists to create modern-day community hubs that foster connection and drive impact. The dynamic spaces offered are used for public and private events, shared workspace, and offices, as well as Vuka’s own leadership workshops and business accelerators, focused on community and global issues congruent with today's evolving landscape.