We spoke with Phil Kemp, MD Commercial Management
and Incubation at Regus,
about why Regus is investing in this model of
flexible office space, how it is developing so far,
and what is coming along in the future.
Flexibility: What has been
Regus' thinking in investing so strongly in the
third place market?
Phil Kemp: We've spent the last
two years building up the Express proposition. I
joined the company specifically to do this, to build
up a network of flexible places to work.
We see an increasing number of mobile workers.
There were 1.3 billion of them in 2013, enabled by
the mobile technology. People find themselves
working wherever they are. But physical space hasnít
caught up with the technology Ė people on the move
donít have professional places to work. So we are
targeting high footfall locations that business
people use, and provide a professional workplace
thatís geared towards convenience and productivity.
Flexibility: How is the Express
offering different from other offerings in the
market and from Regus' other products?
Phil Kemp: The idea is an
evolution of the business lounge approach that has
been incorporated into Regus centres in recent
years, starting with our flagship business lounge in
Berkeley Square [in Mayfair, London].
As well as
developing them in Regus centres, we found that a
number of venue partners were approaching us to
build a facility for them, for example SNCF in
France. The idea was to provide an amenity for their
customers, to increase the time customers stay in
their locations and to create a new revenue stream
from mobile workers. As more of this demand came to
the surface, we went out to talk to potential
partners to provide facilities for mobile workers in
airports, roadside locations, railway stations,
hotels and retail spaces. A typical facility is set
up so that you can drop in and work as an
individual, or meet with colleagues in a suite of
meeting rooms. The facility provides space to work,
business-grade wifi, access to printing, power and
Flexibility: Say people turn up
at an airport and they are not a Regus member, how
does that work?
Phil Kemp: We have a similar
approach to the mobile industry Ė so you can
pay as you go, buy a bundle of visits to use at different
times or locations, or take out a subscription for
gold membership for access throughout the year to
Flexibility: Isn't there
competition at airports, for example, from the
providers of airline customer lounges?
Phil Kemp: No. Each sector
has its own specifics. So at Heathrow we have a
lounge landside, not airside. The nearest option then
is a hotel about 15 minutes away. Then we have pods
airside. It's complementary to the existing lounge
offering. Our offering is more about being able to
work and be productive while going through the
Flexibility: How is take-up?
Phil Kemp: Take up is very good
and continues to build. We're alsoseeing a network
effect. so as the number of sites increases,
awareness spreads and usage grows in tandem. The
more dots on the map we get, the more it will drive
overall membership and the two will continue to feed
Flexibility: So who are the
people who are using the Express centres?
Phil Kemp: It's a real mix, from
individuals running a consultancy, to small
organisations to mid-size and corporates. In terms
of functions - it seems to be quite
cross-functional. For example, there are HR people
using them for interviews, finance people and IT
professionals using them when they are travelling,
and so on.
Location also affects usage patterns. A centre
such as Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire will be used
by professionals who live close by and who use the
centre as an alternative to commuting into London.
Those situated on the M25 or other busy networks
might be used by workers from further afield.
People tend to have an office location,
somewhere, but use the lounges when they need to be
more flexible. Additionally, people are choosing our
centres as an alternative to working from home,
recognising the benefits of a more professional
environment with the option of meeting rooms, etc.
Some corporates are still nervous about
flexibility. But we see that changing, particularly
in light of legislation introduced last year which
gives employees the legal right to request flexible
Flexibility: We know a couple of
organisations where homeworking is being introduced
as a kind of mitigation measure, where an office
relocation is creating severe travelling challenges
to some members of staff. Do you see working in the
Express kind of hubs offering an alternative way
forward? Or is there a problem here? Relocations
involve reducing costs. Homeworking is very
cost-effective for the employer, but working from a
hub erodes some of the savings.
Phil Kemp: We have been talking
to companies and to government about this. The
economics are such that you save money whether
someone works at home or works at a Regus centre.
Our centres provide a way to combine flexibility with a little
more control about how work is done. Many of our
partners are looking to downsize their existing
offices. Often, they will have an agenda
around flexibility for their own staff, so we
consult with them to devise an approach that works
for their employees. This can be driven from a
cost-reduction perspective but there is also an
attitude of driving more flexibility for the
employee Ė maximising that work-life balance.
We can show that providing access to Regus has
advantages over working from home Ė the technology,
the conducive atmosphere. This is something that
Iíve found personally - I always have one day
working from a local centre to cut out the
interruptions I would otherwise get at home.
Flexibility: It's still a young
market. How do you see the market evolving for
Phil Kemp: We see it continuing
to develop. The notion of the fixed 9-5 environment
is becoming outdated. For todayís generation
flexible working will become the norm Ė indeed,
legislation is already supporting such a mindset.
Our vision of creating a global network of
professional workspaces is reinforced by the
emergence of local competitors. There is a
continuing momentum towards mobile working and there
will be continued competition, but we will always
look to innovate and lead.
Flexibility: As a society, are
we getting the changing nature of work, or is public
policy lagging behind?
Phil Kemp: Well, in the UK,
legislation is now in place to encourage employees
to have the conversation with their bosses around
work flexibility and productivity.
also see change being driven from a commercial
perspective rather than a local, regional or
national government level.
I know from my conversations with organisations
that the whole use of the high street is changing
rapidly. Itís clear that some high street premises
have excess space and these would be ideal
situations for workhubs or business lounges. This
then plays into the broader picture regarding the
future of the high street and other hot topics.
Weíre helping to facilitate change - not
necessarily by being part of the planning debate but
by talking to organisations that are already in situ
and advising them on the practical details of using
space in a way that can benefit all sides.
This requirement for flexibility and for
professional working environments in retail parks or
near motorways or airports is a global phenomenon.
We're having these conversations in every continent.
As we go through the next few years youíll see these
networks growing. This is the early phase of
flexible working, and we have a long term vision
about where we wish to go.