SA sees uptick in flexible workspaces

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Technology is increasing the migration of flexible office space and co-working locations to areas outside of major metropolitan cities globally to create a “flex economy” that could contribute more than R3.8 trillion to global local economies in the next decade.

This is according to a socio-economic study of second-city and suburban workspaces by Regus. It also revealed that in SA, on average, 265 new jobs are created in communities that contain a flexible workspace, with an extra R30.8 million per workspace going directly into the local economy.

The analysis, commissioned by Regus and conducted by independent economists, studied 19 key countries to delve into the economic and social impact of flexible workspaces in secondary and tertiary cities and suburban areas both now and through to 2029.

Regus says this rise in local working is being largely driven by big companies adopting flexible working policies; moving away from relying on a single, central HQ and increasingly basing employees outside of the major metropolitan hubs in flex spaces.

It notes most are doing so to improve employee well-being by allowing their people to work closer to home, and also to save money and boost productivity.

Business stimulant

An individual flexible workspace or co-working centre in a suburban location can benefit the local economy in numerous ways, from creating jobs both inside and outside the centre, stimulating businesses and services in the nearby area, improving productivity and opening new working opportunities for those who live locally, says Regus.

“Wherever we go we are connected to the WiFi, office hours are no longer rigid, we receive e-mail on our tablets or our smartphones wherever we are,” says Joanne Bushell, Regus MD for SA.

“We can communicate with anything and anyone in the world at any time. Technology costs are going down, and smartphone penetration is sky-rocketing. All of these things are creating a perfect storm for the Internet of things.

“We continue to create environments that enable peak productivity across a highly diverse population. Right now, that means inclusive design, flexible work schedules, and offices that promote choice and control. As time goes on, these choices will become increasingly automated and personalised as big data enables the development of adaptable environments to suit individual needs.”

Across the 19 countries analysed, the average individual workspace sustains 218 jobs. This includes temporary jobs created during the fitting-out stage of the office space, permanent jobs to run the office, including reception, maintenance, cleaning, etc, plus the jobs associated with the occupancy of the workspace.

In some countries, office spaces host more jobs due to a variance in their average size, as well as local regulations and cultural factors, says Regus.

For example, it explains, office workers in Germany are particularly resistant to higher office desk densities. Japan, on the other hand, sees the most jobs hosted from a single centre at 274, with SA coming in midway at 183.

The research also reveals that on average, 82 net additional jobs would be created in the South African economy for each individual centre. This is because the presence of businesses and their employees provide stimulation to the nearby area. When businesses set up in suburban locations, they bring with them local goods and services, and employees who will spend in the local area, creating a “sandwich economy”.

Spreading trend

According to Bushell, SA has already seen significant technological investment in its major cities, including increased access to mobile broadband, fibre-optic cable connections to households, and power-supply expansion, and this is now spreading to secondary cities and suburbs.

This, combined with the rapid spread of low-cost smartphones and tablets, has enabled millions of Africans to connect for the first time, she says.

“As the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, Africa is poised to develop new patterns of working, in the same way that mobile phones have allowed some regions to bypass landline development and personal computers altogether. Africa may be uniquely positioned to jump straight past the adopted working model in other countries to a more liberated future of remote and flexible working.”

Bushell points out that allowing people to use technology the way they want to, engages them, but requires a business culture that puts people first.

“Some say technology is everything, but it’s nothing without people to operate it and bring it to life. Allowing the increasingly mobile workforce to define the requirements of an ideal digital workspace, then, makes perfect sense.”

She believes productivity gains can arise as a result of more efficient workplace strategies allied to expanded use of modern communications technologies.

In addition, she says, by locating places of work closer to residential areas where professional workforces are drawn from, there is also the potential for a portion of travel-to-work time saved by employees to be used for work-related activities.

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