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Human Resources

Reimagining the workplace

Published 11 September 2023 in Human Resources • 6 min read

Intriguing innovation has opened up a “third space” to combine the advantages of the office and homeworking environments, suggest Johan Bjuregård and Peter Ingman, Co-Founders of Flowpass. 

Even before COVID-19 shook up everybody’s work life, Swedish manufacturer Scania had begun to worry about its physical location. Since 1912, the company has been headquartered in Södertälje, around 40 km outside the capital, Stockholm, with many staff commuting from the city. The journey had become increasingly unpopular, especially with white-collar staff who questioned the need to keep travelling to a location simply because of proximity to industrial facilities. 

Coming out of the pandemic, during which almost no-one had made that journey, Scania felt there was no going back, explains Mikael Billström, Senior Digital Strategist at the company. “We could not go back to ‘commute regret,’” he explains. “But we also saw the value of getting people to meet, either in core teams or informally within the company, even if there is a diminishing return from that after the third or fourth day.” 

Scania’s solution was to look for a ‘third space.’ It initially hired 1,000 sq m of office space in downtown Stockholm to provide a flexible and attractive working environment for those who didn’t want to work from home or commute all the way to Södertälje.  

Following an expansion last year, this new workspace can now accommodate 165 workers at a time, so Scania is working with Flowpass to manage the facility. Staff can book day passes to secure spaces, either individually or in coordination with colleagues, if they have a particular task they are collaborating on. “The beauty of this is that it’s a different crowd every day,” Billström adds. “Every day, you’ll meet different people, and that brings new perspectives – and even new career possibilities.” 

Seeing the problem from both sides  

If other companies follow Scania’s example, the future of work may be a little less fraught than some are anticipating. Amid the growing business conflict about how much freedom staff should have to work remotely as opposed to in the office, more progressive organizations recognize that new types of working space can offer positive advantages for employees and employers alike. 

Recognition that this could be a mutually beneficial situation is important to defusing the tension between employers and employee groups. Amazon, Disney, Salesforce and JPMorgan are just the most high-profile examples of businesses ordering staff to return to the office. Yet all the evidence indicates that staff want to keep their freedom to work outside the office environment. EU data, for example, suggests that more than two-thirds of European workers don’t want to go back to the office full-time. How, then, will a new approach to working space resolve this conflict? The answer lies in understanding what motivates each side. 

In a fierce war for talent, employers recognize that flexibility on working practices and a willingness to reimagine the workplace can be key to attracting, engaging, and managing your workforce

For employers, unease about remote working is, in fact, rarely connected to concerns about productivity. In fact, the vast majority of employers trust their staff to work without supervision (and those that do not have more deep-seated issues to resolve than how to force people back into the workplace). 

Rather, employers bemoan the loss of collaboration and creativity that they perceive as arising from the physical separation of the workforce. They worry about the impact of losing those, often random, everyday interactions that so often spark debate and new ideas. They fear a steady erosion of morale if teams fail to meet in person. They are also concerned about how younger staff will learn effectively without day-to-day contact with their more experienced colleagues. 

For employees, meanwhile, remote working brings greater work-life balance, allowing them to reallocate commute time to work, family, or personal activities. Moreover, they may have new childcare arrangements in place that take advantage of flexible working or may even have moved further from the office, making a regular commute impractical. 

In a fierce war for talent, employers recognize that flexibility on working practices and a willingness to reimagine the workplace can be key to attracting, engaging, and managing your workforce. There is also a more finance-based calculation: if encouraging remote working enables companies to shrink their physical footprints, they can save money on office space, which again will count towards meeting sustainability targets. 

Nevertheless, out-of-office working does not suit all employees. As well as the benefits of in-person working and meetings, many miss workplace socialization. The remote-working environment may be a less-than-attractive proposition for some: younger staff, in particular, may be living in – and even sharing – properties where space is short. Moreover, the cost of energy has become a major worry. 

Three sizes fit all 

Hybrid working arrangements, therefore, are probably the best option for employers and employees who want to retain the freedom to work both in and outside the office environment, as suits them. 

However, companies that are not yet set up for hybrid working will need to plan the transition carefully. Workplaces may need to be reconfigured and downsized in order to deliver financial and carbon-footprint benefits. Employees may also have to make significant changes to their daily routines. 

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“We want our offices to be buzzing with energy and endeavor, so we are converting our campus into a network of different spaces.”
- Mikael Billström, Senior Digital Strategist at Flowpass

The alternative that Scania and others are pursuing – specialist accommodation in city-center locations that can be booked flexibly – is set to become more popular, in Europe and worldwide. Already, the number of people using co-working spaces is expected to grow by more than 60% over the course of 2023 and 2024. 

A group looking to hold a creative session with multiple contributing participants, say, may require a different set-up to a team simply looking to work together out of the same location for a period. There may even be staff who wish to use the third space for individual work, as it offers them the most suitable environment. 

Similarly, especially if they are working in close collaboration, people need to know where their colleagues will be. If two members of staff want to work collaboratively for a day, they need to be able to organize accordingly – and with the option to invite others. Booking systems need to be intuitive and reliable, so that double bookings (or sending attendees to different locations) are avoided, particularly as people will have rearranged their schedules to make the commute. 

 A new ‘new normal?’ 

Certainly, Scania is delighted with its post-pandemic experiment. Indeed, the success of the Stockholm space has prompted it to rethink the structure of work across the company. “We want to make co-working the dynamic of the whole workplace experience,” says Mikael Billström. Scania is currently developing a completely new approach to its Södertälje campus, reducing the size of its physical footprint in light of reduced footfall but also redesigning each part of what remains. 

“We want our offices to be buzzing with energy and endeavor, so we are converting our campus into a network of different spaces,” Billström explains, adding that different spaces will be designed to accommodate individuals and group sessions.  

On completion, the financial and environmental cost of Södertälje should be significantly reduced. However, the biggest benefit of all for Scania could be an empowered and motivated workforce that feels like their company cares about them and wants to create a work environment that meets their needs. 

We can expect many more organizations to explore third spaces and co-working in the digital age. Get the balance right in terms of working arrangements, and there is much to gain. Employers and employees get the best of all worlds, securing the advantages they’re looking for from the hybrid model without impinging on the needs of colleagues and managers. Designed with care, the third space could be the way forward. 

Authors

Johan Bjuregård

Johan Bjuregård

CEO & Founder of Flowpass

Johan Bjuregård is currently the CEO & Founder of Flowpass, a platform for nodeworking in Europe. Prior to that, he was the Member of the Board (Head of Strategy) at Let’s Gig and later became the CEO and Co-founder of the same company, which developed a recruitment platform for matching employers with students seeking extra work.

peter ingman

Peter Ingman

Co-Founder of Flowpass

Peter is the Founder of Flowpass, a platform that helps large companies manage flexible workplace options. Prior to this, they were the Founder and CEO of 2BPublished, a company that provided growth services and tools for content creation. Peter also served as a Member of the Board at Paradox Interactive and as a Co-Founder for Growth Tribe Academy in Sweden, where they focused on empowering adults to acquire digital skills.

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