Opinion

Is there space for the office in the gig economy?

4 min read

12 September 2018

Will the rise of the gig economy be the death of the office, or perhaps just the death of the office as we know it?

The workplace and how we view it is changing. There has been a significant movement from traditional, long-term and structured forms of employment, towards flexible contracts. People tend not to spend their entire career at one company, or even do only one job at a time. We are witnessing the rise of the so-called gig economy.

It describes a trend that sees workers of both large and small companies being employed on a temporary basis to complete short-term contracts and one-off projects. So widespread has the trend become, and so fast growing, that Nation1099, the career consultants, expect that, by 2020, half of us will be fully engaged in the gig economy.

But what impact will these seismic shifts in the way we work have on the physical workplace? Will the rise of the gig economy be the death of the office, or perhaps just the death of the office as we know it?

Certainly, as the talent churn-rate increases against the backdrop of an unpredictable economic climate, the fixed costs, restrictive contracts and long-term financial commitments associated with the rental of traditional offices are prohibitive for many companies. Instead, businesses are looking for scalability and flexibility in the workforce and the office space provided.

Employees are equally looking for flexibility in their working practices. Liberated by technology, today’s workers want the flexibility to work where and when they choose, eroding the rigidity of the traditional nine to five office working day.

This is positive from an employer point of view too. Studies suggest that employees obliged to work in an office eight hours a day, five days a week can become disengaged and waste significant time not being productive. Certainly, companies need to evaluate productivity on performance, not simply presence.

However, despite a growing demand for flexible working practices amongst employees, they report missing the camaraderie and buzz of an office environment.

In a Deloitte poll of 4,000 US workers, 48% of those that were either past or present freelancers reported being “very satisfied” with the experience. The remainder cited a feeling of isolation, even loneliness as a significant factor in their dissatisfaction. These thoughts will likely be similar for UK workers.

Just as technology has liberated us to go solo, it can also bring us together. A step on from today’s conference calls, VR meetings of the future will become a core aspect of the “digital workplace”.  However, as advanced as this sounds, it can never replace the body language, social nuances and ideas-generation of face-to-face interactions.

In fact, evidence exists to suggest that trust and effective teams are built primarily through the interpersonal communications that arise from a collaborative and attractive working environment.  A shared physical workspace can answer a serious problem that arises from the gig economy: how to foster a company culture and vision.

While the gig economy may be acting as a catalyst for a shift away from traditional office working, it has also fuelled the rise of flexible and serviced offices. Serviced office take-up across the UK increased by 176% in the first half of 2017, with central London increasing by186%, according to Savills.

Flexible office demand across UK regional cities such as Manchester and Birmingham doubled. The critical factor for employers, employees and workspace providers alike is flexibility.

Serviced offices are perfectly positioned to meet the needs of the next generation of worker. We remain committed to the agility and innovation required to evolve our buildings for workforce 2.0 by developing the best possible spaces, terms and amenities for the next generation.

Simon Eastlake is developments director at Office Space in Town.