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Flexible workspace in the low carbon economy

Touch down.  Log in.  Work on.

A new type of work space has been quietly emerging over the past few years - the Workhub.  Pitched in the gap between the 'Starbucks office' and serviced offices, they provide low-cost desks and meeting/collaboration space that can be hired by the hour, as well as a range of other services for home-based businesses and mobile workers.

A new report commissioned by a consortium of UK government agencies was launched at a conference at BT centre on June 29th.  The report, Workhubs - Smart workspace in the low carbon economy looks at the role of the new wave of local work centres and in particular how they support home-based businesses.  It also looks at possible public sector roles in supporting them and/or using them as the government sector seeks to shrink radically its own office property.

The 'office-as-needed'

According to the report's authors:

"The high level of flexibility and the emphasis on collaboration distinguishes the new workhubs from more traditional providers of serviced office space, and from business incubators and business parks. Some of these providers of more traditional office space are now beginning to add some hub type services

"Many large employers are also going down the route of reducing their office premises and creating smart working environments, with an emphasis on touch-down and collaborative spaces for their increasingly mobile employees, enabling them to work effectively from any location.

"Workhubs create flexible working environments, but they are open to the many rather than employees of a single organisation. Their users can be from any kind of organisation, and the emphasis is on having shared space and shared facilities. In this way space can be used more efficiently and higher occupancy achieved, bringing a lower carbon cost to economic activity."

Offices move from being a fixed to a variable cost, becoming an 'office-as-needed'.  For home-based workers this means having a professional workplace in which to meet clients, or to base yourself at when working from home is not practical.

Case studies

At the heart of the report is a series of detailed case studies of Workhubs and some of their users.  For those unfamiliar with the idea, this is an ideal introduction to this emerging sector.

The case studies are quite varied, but all show a strong spirit of entrepreneurship amongst the people who have set them up.  About half of them have some permanent tenants as well as hub space, while the others have only by the hour/by the day users.  Half again have some kind of public sector support at start-up, while the rest are entirely self-funded.  Some offer virtual services, and most offer some kind of business support and/or networking programme.

They are also in a diverse range of geographical settings: in town centres, in regeneration areas, in rural areas.

There is also a look at Regus, the largest provider of third party workspace, which is now moving into similar territory with it's Business Lounge offering.

A survey of hub users the main value of the workhub is in providing meeting space, facilities that homeworkers do not have themselves, and in opportunities for collaborating and networking.  These are all valued more highly than using a desk or using broadband.

And the hub users overwhelmingly felt that using the hub along with working from home helps them to reduce the carbon footprint of their work.

Support from the government

Minister for Housing and Local Government Grant Shapps has welcomed the report, saying:

“This Government is right behind the thousands of people across the country trying to set up or grow a business from home. It’s right that we find innovative ways of supporting them – particularly in these tough economic times. As part of this I am already working to remove the barriers to social tenants running a business from home.

"This report is a timely reminder to all the public sector about the difference practical support can make to businesses as well as the environment. It should be essential reading for councils who want to provide the best possible support for local businesses in their community.”



July 2010


Further information

The report Workhubs - Smart Workspace for the Low Carbon Economy, by Tim Dwelly, Andy Lake and Lisa Thompson is available from Tim Dwelly at Workhubs.com or you can download the pdf here (2Mb).

The report was supported by the UK Department for Communities and Local Government, Homes and Communities Agency, Commission for Rural Communities, South East England Development Agency, Advantage West Midlands, and BT who hosted the launch conference.












All material copyright Flexibility.co.uk 2009