5 Reasons Workplace-as-a-Service is the Future of CRE

Matryoshkas are Russian nesting dolls, each doll smaller than the last. A set of matryoshkas consists of a wooden doll, which separates in the middle, top from bottom, to reveal a smaller doll with another inside it, and so on. We know what you’re thinking—what does this have to do with commercial real estate? Let’s say commercial real estate is the biggest Matryoshka, and inside there’s a market for owners and customers. Within that market are products, and inside those products are the levers for an evolving conception of the modern workspace. Coworking is one example of a product nested within the CRE category; Workplace-as-a-Service (WaaS) is another, and flexible workspace providers like Knotel are able to deliver on its promise.

Jacob Bates, CommonGrounds CEO and work futurist, explains it in a similar way, and unpacks precisely what WaaS means, why we should be designing office space with fabric instead of glass, and where the future of work is headed. He recently sat down with CoreNet Global to outline his perspective, and here our top five takeaways from the discussion:

1. Economics Can Drive Evolution

Bates explains WaaS as a solution for both supply and demand, and positions it on the timeline of work evolution: 20 years ago, we were stationed at fixed desks, cubicles, and in executive suites. Over the last decade, the market has shifted to a more agile place—in large part due to the recession—and coworking emerged from that demand for agility. But demand has also shifted as the nature of work evolves. Enter WaaS, a product for meeting the needs of the current and future market. In other words, WaaS is an outcome of economics in action, with its own innovative set of solutions, needs, and products contained inside.

2. Productivity Isn’t Always Measured in the Workplace

Workplace productivity is a well researched and theorized subject, but there’s still always something new to discover. Today, that’s a widespread focus on removing “friction points” in a workspace. The idea is simple: removing friction increases productivity at work, and that increases the amount of free time employees have outside of work. WaaS offers many ways to optimize time spent at work, without sacrificing the happiness and health of the people doing that work. Eliminating friction points by adding phone booths to an open plan office so that employees can enjoy some measure of privacy, initiating wellness programs to reduce stress, or even adding greenery and plant life to make an area feel refreshed, tips the scales toward productivity in and out of the office.

3. Technology is Important—But It’s Not Everything

New technology can be used to dramatically improve a workspace, but it often requires a considerable investment in time and resources to implement it effectively, especially if it’s being layered onto older legacy systems. But when it comes to WaaS, tech is integrated into the flow of the space, rather than being used to supplement certain aspects of it. In today’s fast-changing landscape, IT functions have to be adaptive to address a business’s changing needs, while maintaining enterprise quality, and WaaS delivers that flexibility for companies large or small in a cost-effective way. That’s primarily because WaaS takes a more holistic approach to the entire work environment, of which tech is just a part, in order to optimize conditions for the people within the space.

4. Space is On-Demand, and Design Matters More Than Ever

We’re in the on-demand era—Workspace-as-a-Service is a natural acceleration of that trend. While coworking as a product offered agility, on-demand culture and branding for customers was difficult, if not entirely missing. On the other hand, WaaS creates environments where companies can fully express their brand identity and culture. Planning horizons are shorter, flexible leases are on the rise, and the talent wars are being waged across industries, so the flexibility afforded by WaaS has become an attractive option for companies. Likewise, design now needs to be human-centered and dynamic enough to keep up with the rate of change in the workforce. Bates uses an example of a buildout priced high and estimated for at least seven weeks; a flexible team did it in one, and under budget, using materials that are easy to change, like fabrics, leather, and modular walls. Another nesting doll within WaaS is furniture-as-a-service, which allows businesses to furnish their offices with flexible products and removes the burden of buying and eventually disposing of used furniture. Put together, WaaS and FaaS offer companies a competitive edge, and a sleek workspace to boot.

5. Offloading Operations Delivers Real ROI

Supply—the buildings and properties and subsequent products packed within—is beginning to function differently in this new world of WaaS. In particular, the concepts of hospitality and hotel-style management services now provide major opportunities because they essentially offload many of the operational challenges of running a workplace, like design, wellness curation, social and community programming, and, of course, where employees can get their morning coffee. Supply, Bates says, is about using buildings differently and activating assets for a direct impact on the “real client”—the people using the space.

As Bates outlines, Workplace-as-a-Service is a holistic solution for the future of the office. Like a nesting doll, the innovations contained within this relatively new way of doing things are reshaping our perspective on what came before, and building excitement for what the next big reveal will be.

You can listen to the entire discussion over at CoreNet Global.