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Q&A: IWG and Round Hill Ventures’ tips for embracing hybrid work

It’s all well and good knowing the future of work might be hybrid, but what does that actually mean for landlords? How should they prepare for that future?

PlaceTech contacted global flexible office provider IWG – owner of Regus and Spaces, among other brands – and European proptech VC firm Round Hill Ventures for a few practical tips and tech suggestions for office owners.

What are the biggest physical changes landlords will have to make to their workspaces to accommodate hybrid working?

IWG: It’s really dependent on what type of space the landlord has. If it’s office space, they may not need to do much beforehand aside from ensuring that it is kitted out in accordance with the new hybrid world of work, with spaces for collaboration and connection prioritised alongside the latest technology.

If the space was being used for a totally different purpose, there are various factors to consider, from the size of the building to the location and the different types of customer likely to be using the centre – whether that’s startups, larger corporates, or a mixture of both. IWG also has the unique advantage of having multiple brands for landlords to consider – from Regus and Spaces to HQ and Signature – ensuring there is a brand solution appropriate for any space they wish to convert.

RHV: I think as a prerequisite, landlords must always have the end user in mind when adapting physical workspaces. As part of that, they have to realise that office space will be used differently in a hybrid setting. If workers are given the freedom to shift between working from home and the office, then offices need to provide best in class amenities to give employees the impetus to return to the workplace.

Any physical changes that landlords decide to make has to ensure their comfort, as well as empowering them to perform to their highest level. Physical changes must ensure that all forms of working are facilitated in the office: introducing more physical elements such as collaboration areas with open seating will be key, alongside dedicated spaces for calls and focus work.

How can landlords know what changes they need to make to their specific spaces – what tools can help them understand their occupiers’ and future occupiers’ needs?

IWG: Alongside keeping an eye on workplace trends, such as the desire for open, interactive spaces, breakout areas and meeting rooms for collaboration, landlords should keep an open dialogue with those who occupy their space, to determine their specific workspace needs. A large enterprise which might occupy one floor of your workspace, for example, might have very different requirements to small businesses and freelancers who drop in to use coworking areas.

RHV: First and foremost, landlords have to stay ahead of the curve by reflecting current trends of office utilisation. Covid-19 has brought a huge shift, empowering employees but also tenants. Hence the demand for smart spaces with flexible leasing models and a focus on tenant experience will continue to grow.

Proptech solutions will help landlords and occupiers to manage new working trends and turn challenges into opportunities. As the whole ecosystem of smart office solutions matured and gained importance during the crisis, landlords can choose from a variety of developed technology. They have the choice to either integrate single use case tech solutions, such as occupancy tracking; integrate whole tenant experience platforms which tackle multiple use cases; or use one stop shop solutions, which take care of flipping bricks and mortar assets into new smart flex spaces.

What is the best way for a landlord to introduce the services – booking, access to facilities, any optional extras – that hybrid or co-working offices need?

RHV: It really depends on each individual landlord and how they operate. Multiple startups across Europe continue to focus on developing operating systems to make offices more connected and work smarter, integrating the physical space for people working in the building with facilities management services.

I’ll give you an example: the Amsterdam based startup, Office App (just acquired by HqO) and the German app, thing-technologies, provide their own software which allows staff to interact with their buildings from one click of a button. It makes things like booking desks and meeting rooms much easier, and perhaps most importantly, gives facilities managers ways of being able to work smarter and improve the efficiency of their office spaces.

Software for any use case

IWG and Round Hill Ventures recently collaborated on a report, PropTech and the future of work, which recommends several startups and platforms to landlords upgrading their office space:

Collaboration tools

  • Spatial: a US startup that turns offices in shared augmented workplaces using VR devices
  • Range: a collaboration tool that includes virtual check-ins, status updates, resource planning tools and more for teams working in different places

Communication tools

  • Tandem: acting like a walkie-talkie, the tool allows users to talk to each other without setting up calls, thereby turning their computers into a virtual office
  • Nooks: creates virtual meeting rooms where co-workers can talk to each other without setting up meetings

Occupancy data tools

  • Locatee: using existing Wi-fi networks in a building, the platform registers employee movements within a building, tracking space occupation over time

Flexible space booking tools

  • Upflex: the startup functions as an aggregator booking platform, allowing corporates to book on-demand office space according to their needs

Tools to turn offices into flexible serviced spaces

  • Kitt: an office marketplace that matches asset owners to renters. Kitt redesigns office space according to a tenant’s needs and manages the transition to a “smart office”

What tools can you recommend to help monitor how people use the office and, therefore, what tweaks landlords should make to keep up with shifting demands?

RHV: The way that we can now track user occupancy has really accelerated over the past few years, with the evolution of sensor, Wi-fi and video tracking to name a few. For all these solutions it is important that they are GDPR compliant and hence safeguard personal data.

Which tracking solution makes most sense differs from use case to use case and the granularity of the data needed. Making use of existing Wi-fi cells and tracking occupancy via triangulation is an uncomplicated start and sets the basis of occupancy tracking on a portfolio level. More detailed data will be achieved by installing dedicated sensors, allowing for use cases such as live desk booking, etc.

There are tools to digitise just about everything in a building these days. Where should landlords start?

RHV: It is important to understand that technology serves in two directions: it should increase comfort, security and experience and it should help to gain efficiency in terms of cost and energy. Landlords need to choose technology wherever they can improve these aspects. Two important topics need to be tackled now: decreasing Co2 emissions that relate to (office) buildings and increasing the comfort of workers in the office. For both technology solutions play a key role and should be leveraged as much as possible.

What are some hidden challenges that landlords might not have considered but should when making their portfolios more attractive to hybrid workers?

IWG: The pandemic has caused a fundamental change in the way we work, and landlords should keep this front of mind when diversifying their portfolio to incorporate flexspace

What people require from a workspace has changed; people no longer come into the office just to send emails and as such, they no longer need or expect a sea of desks. Inspiring and interactive spaces for collaboration, team meetings and brainstorming will be important features for landlords to incorporate in the new world of work, along with breakout areas and meeting rooms

Alongside flexible workspaces close to employees’ homes, corporate, city-based HQs will remain important for practical and social reasons, such as collaboration, team meetings and company events. As such, their design must also lend itself to these new purposes.

Landlords also need to ensure their buildings have scope for the latest technology. A strong connection for video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as a secure, impenetrable IT infrastructure is a big consideration for both individual employees and larger enterprises.

RHV: I look at this in a positive way, as challenges can present themselves as opportunities for landlords. As IWG has mentioned, the pandemic has forced landlords to really step up their game. Offering bricks and mortar assets alone will not put them ahead of competition.

Flexspaces, green buildings and smart offices must play a larger part in every portfolio. We do see an increased pressure from different directions. Investors will shift money to greener, ESG friendly assets and end users are demanding it.

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