Business ideas 2021: The flexi-office

An area that has seen a rapid increase in interest over the last few years, and only been propelled forward by the coronavirus pandemic

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There’s no denying that the pandemic has changed the way we work for good. With offices told to close and employees told to work from home, people have adapted to remote working – and the thought of returning to the office full time isn’t for everyone.

Now, thanks to the increasingly popular flexi-office concept, businesses can accommodate their employees’ changing attitudes by choosing flexi-contracts, and they can reduce unnecessary costs at the same time.

But the concept of the flexi-office doesn’t stop there. Where office space was solely located in – well – office buildings, since the pandemic, a new concept has been born. While the term ‘workspitality’ is a relatively new one, we’ve reason to think it’ll become widely known.

That’s because an increasing amount of hotel groups are now turning their hotels into shared office spaces – spaces that businesses can hire as and when they need to, with all the facilities of the modern office to hand.

Thanks to these new concepts, an increasing number of startups have been born to act as the middleman between businesses and office space providers. But if management isn’t something you’re into, you could always turn your hand to flexi-office investment.

While the flexi-office market in cities is dominated by large shared office space companies such as WeWork, there’s no reason why you couldn’t research demand for flexible office space in the outskirts of cities, or in towns and more rural areas.

Want to read about more top business ideas? Check out the full list of the best business ideas for 2021

Starting a flexi-office business – why is it a good idea?

As businesses look for ways to become more savvy with their spending and answer to changing attitudes in the way employees want to work, a study by Ernst & Young reveals that flexible co-working spaces will make up 30% of the office space market by 2021.

The foundations of the flexi-office concept were dug several years ago, thanks by and large to the co-working movement. The idea that several businesses could work under one roof and share facilities has become so popular that the number of shared working spaces in London is expanding at an annual rate of 20%.

As part of the movement, popular co-working companies including LABS and WeWork began to offer businesses the option to use their spaces on a flexible basis.

Businesses can hire out office space and meetings rooms, and use the facilities with a temporary pass. However, when it costs one person almost £200/month to use the space without the benefit of a private office, we can imagine it isn’t particularly cost-effective. This means there’s plenty of room for fairly priced, flexible office space.

And, as we mentioned in the introduction, this doesn't just apply to city centres. In fact, as more people look to cut down on their commute times, the same study by Ernst & Young predicts a 67% increase in the number of satellite offices popping up on city outskirts.

Costs aside, the flexi-office movement has come at a good time, as there’s no doubt that the pandemic has catalysed a remote working movement.

According to research site Finder, 60% of the nation worked from home during the height of the pandemic. Out of that 60% of people, 26% still want to work from home to some extent once the country resumes some semblance of normality.

With over a quarter of people who worked from home looking to continue to do so in some capacity, it makes little sense for some businesses to tie themselves into lengthy contracts. Instead, hiring office space purely for projects and collaboration may be more sensible.

Such is the confidence that this is the new way to work, the hospitality industry has made a huge leap forward, recognising that it can facilitate flexible working by offering businesses a place to work, in addition to all the services that may come with a hotel or hospitality venue.

Accor Hotel Group – one of the industry’s biggest names – is turning rooms in 250 of its hotels into flexi-office spaces.

Similarly, big retail names are answering the demand for office space, with John Lewis making 45% of its Oxford Street flagship store available to businesses. As high streets continue to suffer from reduced footfall and competition from online retailers, will there be a demand for people to convert disused high street units into flexible office spaces?

Flexi-office business opportunities

There are only a few feasible ideas when it comes to starting a new business in the flexi-office space.

Flexi-office investment

First, you could become a flexi-office investor – buy up empty offices or buildings, and turn them into short lease office spaces. You don’t need any qualifications or experience for this – just a fair amount of cash to get going. You may want to think about investing in the guidance of an office space consultant, who’ll ensure your building is compliant with health and safety regulations.

Flexi-office space agency for hospitality

You could help hospitality business owners turn their spaces into flexi-offices, and manage their spaces for them for a small fee. One person who did this is the founder of Spacemize, a business that charges workers £19.99/month to connect them with hotels offering somewhere to work and meet. Workers can even eat and stay at a discounted price. Zain Dhareeja, co-founder of Spacemize, says:

“We enable corporate employees and entrepreneurs to work better remotely across a network of over 100 hotels across the UK and US, for just £19.99/month. Members are able to reserve flexible, clean dedicated spaces in hotel lobbies and restaurants, together with up to 25% discount on all food and drink, unlimited bookings with 24-hour access, free on-site parking, and discounts on meeting rooms and hotel rooms. We allow employers to reduce costs on expensive office space, help employees save on energy bills incurred when working from home and prioritise mental wellbeing.”

Flexi-office space service supplier

Finally, you could offer a service to flexi-office providers. This could be in the form of leasing physical equipment, or offering business services such as space consultancy – or both!

While lots of office equipment companies focus on longer lease periods, you could offer flexi-office users the option of shorter term contracts, and even provide them with honest advice on how best to use the space with the products that you offer.

The flexi-office: Insider opinion

We spoke to Gabriela Hersham, co-founder of flexible office space provider Huckletree, to talk about the flexi-working landscape, and why you should have the confidence to take a step into the world of flexi-office space.

“No one could have predicted 2020, but one universal truth is that our perception of a ‘normal' working routine has shifted. 2020 has been a wake-up call for flexible working, which without doubt will be a permanent fixture of life, with landlords needing to rethink operations for a flexible working world.

It's been a long time coming, and it's not new news that people want flexible options that fit in with their lives – whether that be proximity to home, space or time share offices, or additional services such as fitness, mentoring, or cycling schemes to help them navigate the complexity of today.

Since launching in 2014, our network of members has grown to over 2,000, across seven spaces in London, Manchester, and Dublin. We've been on an incredible journey alongside our network of startups and founders, supporting them along their way – and it's been great to watch them grow and achieve success.

What fills us with even more confidence is that despite the pandemic, 2020 has been our most successful year (for a non-expansion year), with 120 new companies joining since the start of lockdown – including the likes of Starling Bank, Depop, and Crowdcube.”

Aimee Bradshaw Senior Writer

Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.

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