Smart Work Hubs: The Offices of the Future?

Smart Work Hubs: The Offices of the Future?

Technology means that the way we work – and our office space – has changed forever. As a result, there’s been a growth in flexible and collaborative workspaces that break traditional office models.

It’s a burgeoning industry, and growth is strong. Data from March 2013 reveals there were 2498 co-working spaces worldwide, an increase of 87 per cent on 2012 numbers.  The US, Germany and Spain lead the way.

The shared workspace sector

Jono Herman, co-founder of StartNest, a co-working space for tech-based startups in Northern Sydney, says he calls this new range of flexible working “the shared workspace sector”, a cover-all term that includes everything from accelerators and incubators, teleworking, co-working and hot-desking spaces, and even serviced offices and student agencies.

“It’s when disparate companies come together under the same leased space,” Herman says.

There are a broad range of initiatives in this sector, and something for everyone, from the exclusive Work Club in Sydney’s CBD through to niche sector-related co-working spaces in creative hotspots like Sydney’s Ultimo, home to and Fishburners. Large corporates, banks and universities are also investing in co-working spaces and incubators, seeing them as a way to grow business opportunities and access or develop expertise.

For developers and investors, these flexible spaces can be a point of difference and a source of additional income.

A third space

Smart work centres are a “third space”, or an alternative to working from home or the office, and fall loosely under the “teleworking” model of co-working space.

The NSW Government's Smart Work Hub Pilot Program is supporting the establishment and operation of five of these hubs, which have become popular overseas, in areas with large commuter populations: Penrith, Rouse Hill, Oran Park, Gosford and Wyong. South East Queensland has a series of similar Digital Work Hubs on the Sunshine Coast, Logan and Redlands, the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay and Brisbane.

A positive step forward

Smart work hubs have all the much-touted benefits of any co-working space - increased creativity, sharing ideas, collaboration, networking and a sense of community, but also increased productivity through flexible working patterns. One important addition for workers in a smart work hub is that reducing a long commute should ideally increase work–life balance, with flow-on effects for job satisfaction, engagement and productivity, as well as easing congestion on the roads.

Space&Co. is one example, a joint venture between real estate investment trust GPT and CoActiv8, who champion and build collaborative and flexible workspaces. It has resulted in two flexible workspaces: one in Rouse Hill in Sydney’s outer North West; and a second in Melbourne’s CBD.

Flexible workplace strategies

What makes Space&Co. interesting is that it has a group like GPT behind it. Sam Jordan, GPT's flexible workspace solutions director, says both Space&Co. venues have been well received and GPT are exploring expansion opportunities across the eastern seaboard. 

“GPT has been actively involved in flexible workplace strategies for a number of years now, in direct response to technology-enabled trends and the needs of our customers,” Jordan says. “GPT’s response has included the adoption of activity-based working (ABW) in most of its workplace environments, an investment in LiquidSpace which uses modern marketplace technology to make finding and booking the right workspace easy and convenient, and some workplace advisory with leading organisations.”

Space&Co. Rouse Hill and Melbourne Central are the logical next step for the organisation.

Location affects market

Both Space&Co. sites offer flexible workspace memberships, team workspace and event and meeting space. But their locations make them attractive to different markets.

“Space&Co. at Rouse Hill provides an opportunity for professionals to avoid commuting to work by working from a well-equipped, productive workspace located closer to where they live,” Jordan says. “It has a growing community of small to medium enterprises and entrepreneurial startups, freelancers and consultants. This provides an opportunity for users to work with likeminded people and bounce ideas and concepts.”

Space&Co. Melbourne Central Tower is a different proposition, more like a hybrid model between the traditional serviced office and recent arrivals, the co-working venues. Jordan says many are attracted to its central but flexible on-demand space.

“Current and new customers of GPT, be they tenants in the building, casual users and Space&Co. members, have access to a flexible, on-demand workspace in the heart of the CBD.”

Enhancement partners

Smart work hubs appeal to smaller clients – like SMEs, startups, freelancers and consultants – because they want to be part of the community being developed, and upgrade from working from home to a professional but progressive office environment with flexible terms.

But the likes of Space&Co. Rouse Hill are also drawing in corporate and government clients with sophisticated workplace strategies. These are companies that are embracing technology-enabled workplace flexibility and have the right cultural approach to workplace accountability – for instance, measuring people on output not input. Jordan says Space&Co. becomes an “enhancement partner” for these bigger organisations with employee-benefits strategies.

“It doesn’t replace the CBD, or headquarters, but we are saying the nature of work has changed and so we’re starting to develop products and services that respond to that. Flexible workplace solutions allow us as a landlord to cater to our customer needs far better, and therefore create products that respond to their requirements.”.

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