The Emerging Office Off-set: Less Space Plus More Service
September 1, 2020
Gillian Hallock Johnson
Building Dialogue Quarterly, Colorado Real Estate Journal
Never in modern workplace history will we be more challenged than right now to creatively overcome such an epic disruptor to our workstyle. Overnight, industries and companies uncomfortably transitioned to an all-remote workforce, leaving office real estate empty, silent, and devoid of intent, reinforcing the fear and uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic launched upon us. Without a doubt, CEOs, CFOs, COOs and portfolio managers worldwide are mobilized to examine major square footage reductions without compromising their core culture, energy, profitability, or the brand that feeds and engages the souls of their employees.
There is a budding silver lining with a progressive new office concept that balances the reduced square footage imperative with the cultural equation so essential to the human experience in the office. The concept is a “hub” – a name coined by a front range higher education institution who initiated an extremely successful prototype in one of their buildings.
The hub was envisioned as a space to meet faculty members’ needs more effectively while reducing the campus’s office footprint. To gain admittance, faculty must give up an office. Complete with reservable-workspaces tailored to the user upon admittance as well as a range of concierge services, catering, and amenities, the space has become a preferred (and prestigious) workspace destination.
What is a Corporate Hub?
A corporate hub, not to be confused with typical coworking space or landlord “public” amenity space, is private. The size of the hub can be scaled within a company’s office suite as necessary to accommodate their percentage work-from-home employees. It is a concierge-driven, amenity-rich, programmatically diverse, culturally infused variety of touch-down spaces that are arranged together and placed strategically adjacent to the reception/conference area in the office.
The value proposition is that employees would be asked to make a choice to forego a dedicated office in lieu of access to the hub. Paramount to the concept is that the hub is private to the company with which it is associated. It is not public – in fact it is closed to the public, imbuing an inherent sense of security and cultural engagement not found with coworking. Clients and visitors would be welcomed traditionally at the company’s reception area adjacent to the hub.
The Hub “Hug”
Mies Van der Rohe said “God is in the details,” and in this case those details come in the form of meaningful amenities that offset the “sacrifice” of the dedicated personal private office. A concierge, onsite IT expert, technology-rich work areas, personalized “welcome” software at each workpoint, catered food, nap pods, walkstations, cycle stations, showers, lockers, and drycleaning are among the most desirable services. Since childcare has emerged as one of the most prominent issues to overcome during the pandemic, a company could differentiate itself further by considering including it as part of their hub offering. All these services are devoted specifically to the employees’ needs, saving them valuable time on tasks or logistics while facilitating productivity, camaraderie, health and wellness. Essentially the hub allows the company to “hug” their employees in a new way and show them they are valued.
The hub concept adds a new, deeply desired dimension to the workplace – one of service vs. luxury.
How Does a Hub Work?
Conceptually, once the employee has formally opted out of a dedicated private office within the company, they have earned the privilege of reserving a private workspace within the hub. In this scenario, they would not have both. They can either call the concierge directly or make an online reservation on a given day. At that time, they can sign up for the use of a specific type of space, while also arranging for the use of specific amenities. Outside of the hub, the company conference rooms and general office space would remain available to facilitate engagement with everyone in the office.
While it is the pandemic that thrust us head first into re-thinking office space, working from home was already rapidly increasing in momentum. I would argue that the hub concept adds a new, deeply desired dimension to the workplace – one of service vs. luxury. Perhaps the reduction of real estate enabled by a hub concept can actually open up even more real estate options for companies looking for space in competitive markets. A beautifully-designed hub concept might even gain the sort of inertia and prestige that would enable it to emerge as the preferred style of work, eventually replacing traditional office layouts. And the biggest silver lining is that it places more explicit value on employees’ time and contributions.
Illustration by Juna Pfeifer