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The Coworking Revolution

CEO Wayne Berger Speaks to the Demand for Flexible Working Environments

— March 22, 2019 — Business
Futurists are predicting that by 2040, the 9-5 job will have disappeared completely. In place of rigid schedules and sterile office designs, are facilities like Spaces -- a coworking environment that’s rapidly adapting to the demands of the modern employee, offering amenities, a versatile design plan, and most importantly, community. To learn more about Spaces and the changing needs of the modern workforce, Trend Hunter sat down with the CEO of IWG Canada and Latin America, Wayne Berger.

Tell me about yourself and what you do?

I’m the CEO of Canada and Latin America at IWG -- the largest global provider of shared work space, coworking and flexible working environments. We’ve been around 30 years and started the coworking movement back in the UK. We’ve now grown to 4,000 multi-brand locations around the world. That includes 1,200 cities and 120 countries -- our goal is to continue to grow on an aspirational scale. In Canada alone, I’ve been with the company for 5 years, over that period we had one brand, which was known as Regus, our heritage brand. Over the last five years, we’ve gone from 48 Regus locations in Canada to 125 locations around the country. That’s 1 million square feet of space to 3 million square feet of space. We’ve tripled in size over the last few years and we’re going to triple in size again over the next three years. Our mission is to help companies and people create the best work of their lives, and we do this by providing an amazing, immersive, productive community and work experience.

Technology has allowed people to work from anywhere. Why are people drawn to coworking spaces instead of working from the comfort of their own bed?

Technology has been a huge enabler in helping people to choose how, when and where they need to work. Because of this, the whole notion of 9-5 is over. Today, 30% of employed Canadians are considered contingent workforce - freelancers, contractors, startup owners or consultants. That number will grow to 40% in the next two years. So that's a dramatic shift. Today there’s 6 million people that are contingent, but that’s moving to 8 million in the next 2-3 years. By 2025, 51% of Canadians will be contingent workforce, and many futurists believe that by 2040 the full time workforce will disappear, and everybody will be working largely for themselves.

Soon, all of these people will need a great place to work and coworking provides this incredible community. Our goal at Spaces is to build an ecosystem for people, where they can work within 7 or 8 different environments. We wanted to build an environment that people love to come to, that’s design rich, that feels amazing, and that people can be productive in. Coworking allows people to gather from different industries, different companies, but they’re all together in one unit. So this creates a unique culture, it creates community.

Could you expand on how Spaces specifically works to create a greater sense of community? How do you encourage your members to connect with one another?

From a design standpoint, we created Spaces to be inspiring and productive. So within this building, you’ll find numerous different environments like cafes, meeting rooms, shared desks, and comfortable booth seating. It was intentionally designed to encourage interaction, through various elements like open concept work spaces, and even glass meeting rooms to create this sense of openness, something that welcomes the integration of different industries, and companies. We’re also very structured around community curation. All 125 locations have a mandate to organize and run a certain number of events every month -- and these events bring people together. Spaces accelerates to a greater degree because we host 6-10 events a week. So, we really ensure people have a formal opportunity to gather, and connect. It becomes easier to introduce the idea of workplace collaboration when you meet someone at a panel discussion, or at a rooftop wine mixer. So we really tried to create a space that unites and connects all people, from all the unique industries we have here.

Are there any cities that are surprisingly innovative in terms of flexible working environments?

On a global scale, I think about the city of Santiago in Chile, which has been incredibly progressive in terms of coworking. In Latin America, people and companies are shifting how they work and operate. For example, there’s a Spanish bank called Santander bank and in Santiago, they’ve re-purposed unused space in 100 branches into coworking facilities. They’re always full, they have a cafe that offers discounts to members of Santander bank, they have a great working space, and the bank is still operational in the back. In addition to meeting the demands of the modern labor force, this creates an environment that people want to be in, which is important for Santander as so many consumers are switching to online banking, and have less of a need for the physical branch.

What are the biggest challenges you face in the industry and how do you overcome them?

The quest for space is a real challenge -- continuing to grow to meet the need but not sacrifice the right location that’s within the right real estate and financial model. The other piece is continuing to separate yourself from competitors. This business is growing at a very fast rate, and international companies are coming into Canada to provide the same service. If you’re looking to pick a facility, there’s a lot to choose from. We have to differentiate ourselves because right now, a lot of companies are designing the same concept. We know that in reality, people want choice in not just location, but in design. This is why a multi-brand strategy is so important, and why we have five distinct brands that we provide -- we know that what’s ideal for one person or company, isn’t perfect for another.

How are you adapting to the rapidly changing workforce?

The workforce is in a renaissance period - there’s never been a better time to be working. For starters, we’re seeing a shift toward understanding health, wellness and balance. Next, people are choosing to work longer, so you have to provide a great working environment that can cater to multiple generations, in one space. The world of work is shifting dramatically. Right now, coworking spaces take up 2% of the real estate market across the country, but experts are predicting that by 2030, coworking will represent 30% of commercial real estate. Soon, flexible working will be expected, and coworking will just be considered working.

Do you have predictions for the future of the industry?

What we’ll start to see more of is verticalization. Because Spaces gives employees, workers and business owners access to everything they need, we’ll start seeing coworking spaces that are specific to one industry. So maybe they’ll be a coworking facility that houses block chain companies, and another for cannabis start-ups. You’ll also see this shift expand into other types of space. There’s been an acceleration in some of these media industries, like podcasting or blogging, but there’s a lack of traditional studio space, where these like-minded people can gather. So I think you’ll see a coworking photography space, or a coworking space specifically for fashion design -- somewhere that serves as an expertise space where members of that industry or community can gather.

Work can be an environment that people love to go to, and when it is, it creates value for an employee on a personal level. So more brands will come out to meet the different needs of employees and companies.