Pros and cons of a flex office
The concept of flex office is not new. Yet, the pandemic has influenced the way we work and accelerated the idea that flexibility in the workspace is a necessity. Flexible offices took shape and became more and more common in the business world.
As companies started realizing that flex offices can have great advantages (e.g. cost reductions), the transition was not so easy for employees who often have to get used to such changes. There is, nonetheless, a smooth way of going about it by making sure you surround yourself with the right technology while being organized regarding the transition from a traditional workspace to a flex office.
In this article, you will learn about the topic of flex office, its definition as well as the advantages and disadvantages of having a flex office.
What is a flex office?
A flexible office is based on the idea of not having assigned desks for employees. This also means that there are fewer desks compared to the number of employees. Therefore, people have to choose their working desk depending on availability.
A flexible workplace should also be designed in a way that it would suit the unique and changing requirements that a company might have at any point in time (office space, internal restructuring, launching new departments, personnel changes, etc.). In those cases, the adaptability of a flex office is key for a business. Flexibility can go a long way in helping a company’s evolution.
The advantages of a flex office
For a better use of the workspace and saving costs
1. Reduce the office space
A flex office will allow you to optimize the space you have available for your employees to work. It’s been shown that the workspace is not normally used to its full capacity in most offices. According to Vergesense’s study, there are many factors that explain why workspaces are currently being underutilized.
Office design of the past was heavily weighted toward individual work, giving each employee his or her own spot to sit, focus, and work [...]. With the rise of the work from anywhere movement, our data tells us an over allocation of individual work space could lead to major underutilization. (Vergesense)
Further research from Vergesense and WeWork have shown that offices are only busy less than 50% of the time. This takes into account people’s vacation time, sick days, external meetings, events and more. This means that the remaining 50% is “wasted”. That’s half of the space available. And with the new hybrid work model, giving even further flexibility to work remotely some days, this utilization percentage is considerably lower.
By developing a flex office arrangement in the office, you can right-size the workspace to its real needs. You would also secure “a buffer” while your company keeps growing. This will take away any future hassles when moving to an office that might be way too big for the current need of the company or, on the contrary, having an overcrowded office because the workspace has become too small. With the right technology, you can better manage and monitor the occupancy of your office. A smart desk booking software can be of great help in this case.
2. Save costs on the workspace
By shifting to a flex office and having unassigned seating, the total office space will be optimized and used to its true potential, as employees will share available desks. Office space can therefore be right-sized to the real needs of the organization, leading to saving space and real estate costs.
Let’s imagine that, on average, only 50% of your employees come to the office on a daily basis, then you could have an employee-to-desk ratio of 2:1 (2 people per desk). However, you need to consider that affluence will fluctuate from day to day. During busy days, it could be that more than 70% of employees would like to work from the office. In this case, you need to make sure that your employee-to-desk ratio supports occasional overflow.
It’s very common for companies to opt for a 10:7 ratio (10 employees for 7 desks). With this in mind, you could reduce your office space and costs up to 30% when transitioning to a flex office. Of course, this also depends on how many shared spaces (rooms, social areas, ...) are allocated.
Creating a dynamic and flexible workspace
1. A flexible workspace to meet everyone’s needs
A flexible office space offers people a choice when it comes to where they are most productive for the job they have to do. Giving employees the flexibility to work when and where they want to be the most productive helps create a true balance in terms of working style, employees’ needs and personalities, which can greatly differ from one another. According to Qualtrics, employee experience is becoming more and more important. Companies must listen to their people in order to identify what matters to them, and create personalized, custom-made experiences.
In the office, people find focus differently. Some get energy and motivation through the office dynamics, others might need the peaceful environment of a silent room to be most efficient. For instance, introverts might prefer staying home as social interactions can be draining for them, just like extraverts might prefer to come to the office to get a boost. Whether focus is found 100% in the collaborative spaces or 100% in a silent area of the office, it is the same. The company’s role is very important as the employer has the opportunity to support employees' working styles, which will only enhance employees’ wellbeing in the workplace.
2. Designing the office for activity-based working (ABW)
At its core, activity-based working recognizes that different people — and even the same person throughout the course of a day — need different working environments. Offices designed to enable activity-based working, will offer different spaces that will meet the needs of various types of tasks.
- Do you need to have an online meeting or a call? You can go into a phone booth for privacy. ☎️
- Do you need to brainstorm with your team? No worries, you can all gather in a meeting room that has big whiteboards. Perfect to write down all your ideas! 💡
- Want to catch up with a colleague over a coffee? You can head straight to one of the social zones, whether that’s the cafeteria or the lounge with comfy couches. ☕
It’s all about having a diversity of workspace options to provide employees with the best work set-up and environment (space, equipment, acoustic, …) to execute the job they need to do.
There are various elements that you will find in most flexible workspaces, each of which promotes adaptability and collaboration. Concretely, this means that an employee can decide to work from a laptop in a quiet area where they can concentrate, and use a collaborative shared space to meet up with other teammates over coffee.
A good flexible workplace arrangement will also allow employees to meet face-to-face more often, especially in shared spaces, to brainstorm, increase interactions and ideas. By being able to talk in comfortable seats located in the open spaces, your employees have the opportunity to think of innovative ideas, which can only be beneficial for the evolution of the company.
Overall, a well-designed flexible office will give employees the breathing room they need to do their best work. And this on their own terms.
The challenges of a flex office
Difficult transformation for employees
A traditional work environment that suddenly transforms into a flex office without assigned seats can be quite unsettling for employees. In addition, this can also be a challenge for employers and managers, as you can read in our article "4 challenges office managers face when going hybrid". Employees are very attached to their desk. Most of them like to make a desk their very own by adding personal objects such as photos, a plant, notepads, files or favorite pen.
Furthermore, when going with a first-comes-first-serve approach, employees can feel frustrated on many levels. It puts more strain and stress on them as they need to find a suitable spot once in the office. The experience of going to the office all of a sudden becomes a constant battle. The moment this happens, employees’ work experience changes, and, for most, significantly worsens.
It can become difficult to sit next to coworkers from the same team, which reduces team collaboration. Employees might also not have the right equipment to work with, which increases frustration and lack of concentration during work hours.
As you can see, setting up a flex office can have a significant impact on employees. But of course, there are ways around this. It’s important to equip yourself with the right tools in order for this transition to be as smooth as possible for your employees. One of the options would be to offer your employees the possibility of booking a desk ahead of time through the use of a desk booking management app which will result in a better employee experience in a flex office.
The second common disadvantage is related to office occupancy management. As mentioned previously, a flex office is set up in such a way that there are more employees than available workstations. There are some scenarios to keep in mind in this case.
One of the main challenges is to accommodate an often uneven flow of employees into the office on a given day. For instance, there might be days of high affluence, when most people want to go to the office and some will end up without a place to work. Employees’ productivity time is lost and frustration settles in. Especially for those who had long commutes.
Another scenario is the complete opposite: when there are very few people in the office. Then, employees don’t get the energy and motivation from working with colleagues. The main reason why people go to the office is to collaborate but, if no one is physically there, this aspect of the workplace is lost.
Both these scenarios are problematic as employees might not come back to the office to work if they associate the office with either a waste of time (traveling for nothing) or spending a day solo, which they could’ve done at home instead. This also becomes challenging for the employers as most companies are trying to bring people back into the office these days.
Once again, this is where technology and the right tools help avoid situations where employees feel frustration, stress and lack of focus at work. For example, a colleague that has visibility of when the rest of the team will be at the office will feel more confident coming in. A desk booking software allows people to book their seat before traveling to the office and potentially not having a free spot.
As many companies are working hybrid now, moving to a flex office is a logical next step. After a long period of working remotely, employees aren’t as attached to their desk and are ready to give away their assigned desk in exchange for further working options and more flexibility.
Creating a successful flex office has a lot of moving parts but the benefits are rewarding. A flex office that is well set-up can lead to a more cost effective workplace with better use of its space.
Throughout the process (and beyond), it's important to keep the communication going between the employer and employees to make sure employees’ experience in the office remains high. The creation of a dynamic and adaptable workplace is part of this but, with the help of technology, the transformation will be more smooth. Technology such as a flex office software or a desk booking tool offers features such as desk reservation, HR support, payroll calculations but it also takes into account employees’ experience. A great combo for a successful office transition.
Feel free to contact us with your questions or if you need help setting up your flex office. We’re here to help!