Tomorrow’s workplace?
The emergence of hubs for the untethered workforce*
Written by the Economist Intelligence Unit
syner...
Generational shift
The development of more relaxed spaces that blur the line between
the office and personal life also mee...
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Tomorrow’s workplace? The emergence of hubs for the untethered workforce

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Working from home sounds idyllic. No unpleasant commute, no office politics, no need to put on the business suit. There are downsides, however: no access to big-office facilities such as a photocopier, no colleagues to mull over ideas with, nowhere to hold meetings.

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Tomorrow’s workplace? The emergence of hubs for the untethered workforce

  1. 1. Tomorrow’s workplace? The emergence of hubs for the untethered workforce* Written by the Economist Intelligence Unit synergies that cannot be gained from only working with colleagues.” As the number of people not going to a traditional office every day has risen, so too have work hubs. One driver of this trend, says Ms Parker, is that “companies realised they had excess space in a corporate facility” which they could put to good use. “Many companies already have an allsinging, all-dancing reception area,” she says. “That space can serve multiple functions” so that a business can get more value from it. Ms Parker’s own employer is in the process of refurbishing its Soho (London) office, with the front area becoming a “coffee shop” that provides hub facilities. Hubs of ideas W orking from home sounds idyllic. No unpleasant commute, no office politics, no need to put on the business suit. There are downsides, however: no access to big-office facilities such as a photocopier, no colleagues to mull over ideas with, nowhere to hold meetings. According to a survey by Regus, a serviced offices provider, 50% of professionals around the world work remotely for at least half of their working week1. While many of those who do not regularly travel in to an office are employed, others are juggling portfolio careers (shorthand for holding multiple jobs) or freelancing. Where do you go to work if home is not suitable and there is no traditional office to head to? One popular destination has long been the WiFi-enabled coffee shop. Many professionals, however, find they need more from such spaces than WiFi. Work hubs are emerging locations where mobile workers, freelancers and portfolio workers can make use not only of fast, secure Internet connections but also meeting spaces and, perhaps more importantly, the opportunity to meet and talk with other professionals. Monica Parker, head of workplace strategy at Morgan Lovell, a workplace consultancy, describes such spaces as “jellies”. She explains: “A ‘jelly’ brings together different groups of people who would not otherwise work with one another. Work hubs can facilitate these groupings, providing the opportunity to bump into different people and driving In many cases, businesses create hubs for their own staff—Google is famous for its relaxed spaces where workers can lounge on beanbags or even have an afternoon snooze. The company has extended that by creating a network of hubs for mobile and office workers in seven US cities: Chicago, Durham, Minneapolis, Waterloo, Denver, Detroit and Nashville. Google is also using hubs to support its innovation efforts. It has funded ‘start-up hubs’ in London and Tel Aviv, places where entrepreneurs and tech start-ups have access to casual meeting space and also events and mentors. None of this comes free: annual membership of Google’s campus in east London, which offers working space, meeting facilities and opportunities to meet like-minded people, costs £375 (plus VAT). Making such spaces available has clear business benefits for Google, which has under its nose a collection of bright entrepreneurs whose ideas it can access. As Ms Parker points out: “Google recognises that it can’t possibly hire every smart person, so it’s trying to create an environment where like-minded people can gather, thereby gaining access to some of that intellectual potential.” Google’s hubs are just one example of what Ms Parker refers to as curated communities. “The best work hubs have a group of people who curate the space,” she notes. “This means that when you walk through the door, it’s not just about finding a place to sit. Instead, conversations can be brokered with people or organisations you might want to work for.” sponsore d b y : *This and other articles about the challenges and opportunities of mobility, sponsored by EE, can be found at http://eefutureconnections.economist.com/. Regus, “Managing at arm’s length”, September 2013. 1
  2. 2. Generational shift The development of more relaxed spaces that blur the line between the office and personal life also meets the demands of the younger generation of workers, who have different expectations from those of their older colleagues. The freedom to choose what space you work in is especially important to Generation Y “millennials”, those born between 1981 and 1999. “Generation Y doesn’t have ‘work’ and ‘life’—they just have life,” maintains Ms Parker. Matthew Ball, director of enterprise at Canalys, a firm of technology analysts, expands on that point. “Employees are demanding more flexibility and choice. A person’s physical location will stop being an important criterion for employers, and this will give people greater choice.” Away from the hip spaces of London’s Soho and Shoreditch (dubbed “Silicon Roundabout”), hubs also facilitate better work/life balances for those choosing to live away from urban centres. Gary Rider, EMEA president at Polycom, a developer of communications solutions, adds: “Over 90% of our employees are equipped to work from anywhere—this includes our head office in Slough or our hub in central London. As the majority of our employees live outside the M25, they should be able to work there too.” The key facilitator of this shift in working patterns is of course technology. Says Ms Parker: “A hub is the ultimate BYOD environment.” The office environment of desks and PCs that Baby Boom and Generation X workers grew up with is being supplemented with, and may ultimately be replaced by, flexible spaces populated by people bringing their own laptops and mobile devices to a curated hub, forming communities of colleagues and like-minded people. Regus, whose serviced-office model was the forerunner of the more vibrant hub environment that has emerged, makes this prediction: “Soon, the majority of us will no longer have a single, defined place of work. Given the win-win benefits, this is hardly a surprise. What organisation wouldn’t want fewer operating costs, higher productivity and employee retention, lower risk and enhanced employee work/life balance?”

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