Future of Work

Explained: How our workplaces have changed since the pandemic

Published : January 08, 2022 14:07 IST

The Nairobi Garage project offers flexible office space for young local businesses. Photo: Hannah Clifford/Nairobi Garage

Coworking spaces are no longer just for startups. Mobile offices and hybrid working models are becoming the norm.

It's constructed from scrap metals and painted in vibrant colors: a car sitting in the middle of an office. Surrounding it, chairs made from tires. If you removed all the people working at their computers nearby, you could confuse this place for a garage. This is how the Nairobi Garage coworking space started in 2011.

That was when coworking spaces were taking off in America and Europe. But there wasn't a flexible office space for young, local businesses in Nairobi. "There were kind of serviced offices for international companies that didn't want to take too much risk or get too much operation on the African continent…and these were super expensive and not aimed at the local market at all," said Hannah Clifford, co-founder and director of Nairobi Garage coworking space in Nairobi, Kenya. Back then, not many people were interested in coworking. But demand grew and in 2014 Nairobi Garage revamped its brand. Today, it caters to more than 400 businesses and operates in four locations across Nairobi. It plans to open two more locations in the next year.

As a result of COVID-19, Clifford said, coworking was booming in Africa. Once perceived as only for tech companies, startups and freelancers, Clifford believes everybody is "moving there." "Even large companies. banks would like to be working in coworking spaces," she said. Doing so will allow companies to attract new talent, and workers can learn from each other more easily. But most importantly, companies can outsource the hassle of dealing with office logistics. "Dealing with suppliers is also difficult in Nairobi. So you will have only one supplier instead of 20," argued Clifford.

An offer, not an order

As the world becomes ever more digitalized, the demands for hybrid working models, mobile offices, flex offices and coworking spaces are getting higher and higher. This is also true for Germany's national railway company, Deutsche Bahn. Digital transformation has changed not only how Deutsche Bahn works, but also where its employees work. "Our motto is: An office must fit the needs of our employees, their tasks, and provide our staff not only with a space for creativity and collaboration, but also concentration," said Bettina Munimus, project manager for Deutsche Bahn's mobile work unit. This is what drove them to develop modern office concepts that meet the needs of their employees.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that collaboration can work just as well digitally. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 2021, the DB Group Management Board decided to firmly integrate mobile working into everyday working life. "DB does not dictate a full-time home office, nor does it dictate a full-time presence in the office," Munimus noted.

A home for digital nomads

Apart from revamping its working spaces for its employees, Deutsche Bahn is also extending this offer to digital nomads. In August 2020, Deutsche Bahn opened its first coworking space in Berlin. Business travelers, commuters and, of course, startups can book their station-based coworking workspace. Located on the 10th floor of the central station building, the space is 1,500 square meters (16,100 square feet) big. The aim is to provide easy access to those who want to spend some minutes or hours concentrating on their work. Moreover, via Deutsche Bahn's free everyworks app, a person or team can book individual workplaces by the minute or even become a long-term tenant.

This Berlin coworking space is part of Deutsche Bahn's Smart City initiative. With a whole network of station-based working spaces, the state-owned enterprise wants to promote environmentally friendly train travel. In Hanover and soon in Frankfurt, remote workers can book workspaces in their respective train stations.

Workers want coworking

Critical voices have pointed out the weaknesses and downsides of flexible and mobile working. But the advantages, such as connecting likeminded professionals and improving workers' wellbeing and effectiveness, are speaking for themselves.

Many employees would rather work remotely or in coworking spaces than commute to work every day, the results of employee surveys at Fujitsu Limited in Japan show. Speaking at the Diversity Global Forum in October 2021, Hiroki Hiramatsu, chief human resources officer at Fujitsu Limited, highlighted the fact that "the average monthly commute time for my employees across Japan has decreased by about 30 hours per person for 80 per cent of employees." Hiramatsu also added that the demand to use flexible offices had also skyrocketed.

This follows several initiatives started by the company in 2020 that aimed to change the way its employees work and live. Among the initiatives was Work Life Shift, which allows employees to choose the best time and place to work. "We redesigned our offices to enable effective and, above all, active exchange," said Hiramatsu. He believes that for his company to succeed, the company has to become more purpose-driven in the middle of major social changes. "It is crucial that employees think and act independently about their own 'work style' and 'lifestyle.' And that the company supports them in their wellbeing and diversity," Hiramatsu concluded.