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Flexible Space: Who Or What Will Disrupt Us?

Flexible Space: Who Or What Will Disrupt Us?

Do you know your disruptors?

If you attended BCA Conference in May you will know that was one of the questions at the centre of our discussion. A retinue of pre-eminent expert speakers graced the stage to talk on the topic and explore different ideas about exactly who or what will disrupt our sector in the months or years to come.

If you ask a flexible space provider who or what might disrupt the market, one solitary answer will often come back: “WeWork”.

WeWork are often considered in the same breath as the gargantuan disruptors such as Amazon, Airbnb and Uber. That one brand has become synonymous with the idea of disruption within the flexible space sector, but is that the whole story?

Surely the question of disruption in our sector is far more complex than one which can be satisfied by citing one brand name.

Your BCA correspondent asked Ben Munn, Managing Director at Instant Group, what might be the biggest disruptors in our industry in the next decade. In Munn’s view, three key drivers of change will disrupt the market, and coalesce around the themes of “product, technology and landlords”.

Munn added:

“Customers are changing, and changing their expectations and buying habits, flex operators are bringing new products to market that are driving that appetite and giving the customer more choice; technology is enabling simplicity, ease of purchase, and market transparency; and landlords are waking up to the fact that tenants have become consumers, and that if they do not have the flexible produce people want, then their assets will underperform.”

If you talk to individuals immersed in the provision of flexible space, the changing preferences of customers has already served to disrupt the sector to a certain extent, resulting in the accelerated emergence of new spaces such as coworking hubs, incubators, accelerators, makers’ spaces and artist studios.

Flexibility is at the heart of this disruptive transformation, and providers have responded accordingly.

However, the future may well be even more transformational for our sector.

The average employee within a flexible workspace now has numerous devices connected to WiFi, including wearable technology, giving providers the opportunity to monitor vast quantities of data and, potentially, amend physical space to place additional focus on the “health and wellbeing” of employees – a concept that has gained more prescience in the last two decades.

Perhaps the need to provide tailored space for health and wellbeing purposes will be one disruptor for our sector in years to come? Will physical space look different as a result?

As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly ubiquitous within our economy, opportunities arise to automate administrative processes and free up time for centre managers to focus solely on providing a “value-add” service to customers using flexible space.

Several flexible space providers have already removed their reception desks and replaced them with digital technology that serve the same function, freeing up centre managers to focus purely on the customer experience. Perhaps AI will exacerbate that trend and move innovation on a step further?

The screen that greets clients at a centre may be replaced by a robot that will show them directly to your room, serve them tea and coffee prior to your arrival, or preview the content of the discussion you are about to have. Are you considering how AI might shape your operation moving forward? If not, why not?

At BCA Conference, Philip Ross, CEO of UnWork and UnGroup, talked about the “App-Centric” workplace and this may well be the most immediate disruption we see in the flexible space sector. Apps can connect individuals within spaces and provide your customers with the opportunity to do business together.

Philip Ross speaking at BCA Conference 2017

As the technology develops your customers may well expect you, as a flexible space provider, to provide apps that allow them to connect with potential suppliers or clients within your space. Within multinational companies, apps already exist that proactively engineer meetings between colleagues that are designed to cultivate creativity and ideas.

The “App-Centric” workplace will not be the preserve of the large corporations – flexible space providers have an opportunity to be at the centre of this development. The flexible space provider will become the connectivity provider of the future.

Disruption within the flexible space sector in the future will be about much more than one brand, or one individual innovation. This blog outlines some speculation as to what might happen in the future. A number of trends will shape fundamental change in the provision of physical space for work, whether it be wearable technologies, artificial intelligence or new apps that have the power to connect people.

So the question is this - do you know your disruptors? If not, it is time to start discovering them.


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