An interview with Knotel’s Head of Services, Shivam Patel

We recently sat down (virtually) with Shivam Patel, the longtime Knotel employee who now is leading the company’s charge into services-based workspace solutions.

Shivam, here at Knotel we’ve been talking a lot about “Services.” Can you share a little about this new offering and the timing behind this newly formalized line of business

Of course. One of the biggest challenges we’ve been hearing from customers over the last several months, and really throughout most of 2020, was around the logistical, cultural, and physical dynamics of getting a critical mass of employees back to the office.

We’ve heard the phrase “Return to Work” (RTW) ad nauseam over the last several months and what we’re finding -- in some of our work with our European customers, own employees, and industry experts -- is that the reality of “RTW” is a much more complex and nuanced process than one might believe, if only reading the headlines in the paper.

Despite the fact many companies have actually re-opened their offices and established health/safety protocols for employees, the reality is that office occupancy rates remain incredibly low compared to pre-pandemic levels. We’re obviously in the midst of a resurgence in the pandemic at the current moment, but even before that, it’s been well-reported that most employees haven’t returned to the office yet.

Now to connect this back to your question, the reason we’re optimistic about launching a new Services line is that it’s abundantly clear in most of our conversations with Heads of Real Estate, HR executives, and other corporate leaders, the development of an effective RTW effort is a much more comprehensive endeavor than simply spacing out desks, putting up health signage, and limiting occupancy.

It’s our belief that the pandemic has ushered in a new era of work altogether. From a flex workspace standpoint, if Flex 1.0 was about “where you work”, Flex 2.0 will be much more focused on “how you work” and anchored around the employee experience and purpose-driven workspace.

It will, and should, include everything from workplace strategy to real estate portfolio optimization to user and workplace research to cleaning/sanitation protocols to furniture sourcing all the way through to build, construction, and project management.

These are all interrelated but disparate functions that many companies rely on a slew of outside vendors to help execute. Our hypothesis is that companies will need help doing that. Currently, many just don’t possess the know-how, capabilities, or data needed to properly and holistically execute on this initiative.

How’s it going so far? Are companies receptive to this view of the world you just outlined?

It’s still early, but we’re encouraged by the sentiment we’re hearing from our customers and other respected industry voices. We’re bullish on what the next 6-12 months hold in store, especially as we near the end of the pandemic and slowly inch our way back to some semblance of normalcy.

Interestingly enough, late last year we announced that Knotel was expanding in Australia to better help our enterprise customers develop safe, flexible, and resilient workspaces. However, unlike other geographic expansions in years past, this was one different for one core reason. We weren’t taking or leasing any space in Australia, but rather deploying personnel and resources in the region to work more closely with our global customers who had an active footprint there.

As one of our senior executives commented, “nearly a third of our enterprise customer roster have a footprint in the Australian market, and nearly all of them are seeking guidance on how to responsibly empower their employees with safe, productive and inspiring workspaces.” He went on to say: “office and workspace flexibility will now encompass much more than just space needs and lease duration. It will incorporate a holistic understanding of how a company works and optimize for the employee experience.”

Not only is that spot on, but it’s a continuation of your question about why companies need services, and why now. That’s why. Baking flexibility into every aspect of a company’s office and work styles is not a simple undertaking. That’s our bread and butter.

And these services are available only to Knotel customers? Or will this expertise and consultation be packaged up to the outside world as well?

Good question. And this is a critical part of the equation. In the past, we’ve predominantly only worked with customers who were in a Knotel workspace; meaning being in the space was a prerequisite of sorts to being eligible to benefit from the expertise of our Workplace Strategy professionals.

Over the last year, it’s become abundantly clear that there are a myriad of companies out in the world who are not Knotel customers that will need this sort of broad expertise around developing robust, employee-centric and space agnostic RTW plans. Not only do they need the help, many have actually reached out to us over the last several months. We’re actually in the process of sending out several proposals to well-known Fortune 500 companies for some of our service-based consultation. And it's worth nothing, it's not just tenants and occupieres reaching out, but landlords and owners as well.

As it turns out, almost every single company on the planet right now is trying to figure out how to assemble a new office and workspace strategy that is best for their employees, their business and their bottom-line. It’s our belief and hope that this demand will blossom over the next 12-24 months as companies try to determine what their post-pandemic office routine will look like moving forward.

Knotel is likely not the only company offering these types of services. What makes Knotel different from some of the other players in the market, especially those who have been around for many years?

Another good question. Yes, it’s true we’ve only been around for 6 years. But, I think where the true differentiation lies is in two distinct areas. The first: our people, many of whom are certified workplace strategists, interior designers, supply chain analysts, build and construction experts, and more.

Secondly, and maybe most importantly, we’re offering a comprehensive workspace solution across the entire spectrum and supply/value chain of office. You could of course go to Company A for space, and Company B for furniture, Company C for design and Company D for Workplace Strategy, but that doesn’t strike me as the most efficient or seamless approach.

The beauty of our new Services arm and the legion of experts we have in our workforce, is that we can craft an end-to-end RTW approach that delivers efficiency and continuity that just cannot be captured in a Frankenstein approach, where you have a slew of different vendors or point solutions solving a small section of the overall problem.

That consolidation of vendors is a critical part of the value companies get when entrusting Knotel with their workspace experience. It’s simply a more seamless process when one company can manage the entire operation from soup to nuts. Moreover, our ability to leverage technology to monitor, manage, and optimize the workspace after completion allows us to adjust and adapt earlier parts of the process (furniture, design configuration, etc.) in response to how their employees will work in a post-pandemic environment.

What does an effective and well-conceived “Return to Work” plan look like, and what’s the best way to get a consultation from Knotel’s Services team?

Companies are starting to re-imagine their entire approach to work, and in many cases, that will require consulting with experts to design a robust work experience that combines health/safety recommendations with space/design best practices. But that’s just the beginning.

An effective and comprehensive plan requires much more than physical space configurations and some new rules about when it’s okay to return. It’ll include new HR policies around remote work, virtual collaboration, and more. It will require a rethink from companies about their global footprints and the potential decentralization of office space to better accommodate suburban employees. It will require new mechanisms in place to consistently solicit employee feedback about their workspace experiences.

It will likely include physical reconfigurations around design, spacing, signage, cleaning, IT and more. It may include new technology such as sensors to help evaluate utilization and space optimization strategies.

Combine that with the rather dynamic office ecosystem: the space itself, the furniture, the construction, the build-out, the ongoing maintenance, the ensuring your employees are happy with the space, etc. It’s a complex and convoluted undertaking. Hence why companies need external support, guidance and expertise from companies like ours. The best way to get a free consult? Email n.america.services@knotel.com.