Sarah Colwell: A Dysfunctional Year, Researched by The Instant Group

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It’s our 100th Coworking Values Podcast episode folks! And we are having Sarah Colwell. She’s the Research Executive from The Instant Group.

We are going to be talking about her recent talk from the Coworking Spain Conference last May 4 to 27 РA Dysfunctional Year Researched by The Instant Group. 

In this talk, she deep dives into how flexible workspaces, which is recovering faster than ever, indicates that flexibility is the way forward. And that companies are beginning to embrace that strategy, especially in the pre-pandemic period. 

Are we going back to normal? How do we change work? 


Yeah, it’s a funny line, isn’t it? Because you know, do we call normal? How we worked before? Or you know, what is? What is the new more we talk about the new normal?¬†

But I think Yeah, the well, the way that we work, you know, has has changed. I don’t think we’re definitely not going to go back to the way we worked pre pandemic. I think everyone’s had this experience now working from home or flexibility, more agility in how and where they work.¬†

So I definitely don’t think we’re going to be beginning back to to that normal but there’s no will there be a new normal, which is going to emerge? I think, I think there will be i think it’s it’s definitely not going to be a one size fits all solution.

And I think the key for people really is going to be choice, and they can choose how and where they work. And that is really going to be, you know, everyone might have their,  own unique normal in the way that they work. And I think companies are going to be very much having to, to adapt and accommodate all those different different types of normal.


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Bernie J Mitchel  0:15  

Hello folks, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Coworking Values Podcast. It’s one of our little summer specials here and on the line from just outside London, we have Sarah from the Instant Group. Sarah,¬† what are you known for and what would you like to be known for?


Sarah  0:33  

Well, I guess I’m known for being part of the Research and Insight team at the Instant Group, kind of analysing data, identify new trends within the industry and sharing that knowledge with our clients and operators. What I would like to be known for is a tough one. And I always go back to my roots when I was little and always wanted to be a vet so, that would probably still be my dream/


Bernie J Mitchel  1:07  

You can start a coworking space that’s for vets because there’s a coworking space for hairdressers in London. So, how do you spend your time in The Instant Group? When you say research, what do you research?


Sarah  1:25  

I think we’re quite unique at the Instant Group that we kind of have over 20 years of our own proprietary data that we’ve collated over the years from transactions we’ve done, operators we’ve worked with, so we kind of gather all of that information together. And then I analyze trends looking back over time in terms of what we’ve seen, supply, demand pricing, that kind of thing. And then we can then predict what’s going to be coming up in the future and see what’s happened when we’ve had downturns in the past, how quickly the sector has rebounded and things like that. So, there’s quite a lot of data and we can cut that in numerous ways looking at city centers versus suburbs and postcode regions. Split the operators that we work with by small independence and the big players so we can use that data and look at a wide variety of different trends and data sets.


Bernie J Mitchel  2:18  

It is amazing. I’ve listened to James and John Toker conferences over the years and Bertie from Herman Miller, he does a lot of research around works. Not the same kind of, like, how’s the market moving things but how people work in the workplace and stuff, and it is fascinating. So, when you sort of go around, how many workspaces or coworking spaces do you grab data from? So, like the work we’ve done over the last year, is it like 10 places or 10 million places?


Sarah  3:02  

Definitely in the 1000s and growing fast. We covered the globe really so, every market there is out there, so we’ve got a huge number that we work with right from one member and independence, all the way up to the big player, we’ve got a wide variety. And not quite every corner of the globe, but certainly quite a few number of countries and locations where you probably wouldn’t imagine that there would be a coworking space. You’d be amazed at where some of these places are located and the way that the word work is going now, but who knows where they might pop up on some remote island in the middle of the sea where people want to go and work. You can work from anywhere so; I think that diversity is definitely going to be growing in years to come.


Bernie J Mitchel  3:59  

One of the things I was going to ask you is, this annoys me, and this is my own little issue I need to get over, but most people go, are we going back to normal, or has the way we work changed forever? 


Sarah  4:20  

Normal is a funny line, isn’t it? Because do we call normal how we worked before, or¬† what is the new normal? But I think the way that we work has changed. I think we’re definitely not going to go back to the way we worked pre-pandemic. I think everyone’s had this experience now working from home, more flexibility, more agility in how and where they work. So, I definitely don’t think we’re going to be getting back to that normal. But will there be a new normal which is going to emerge? I think it’s definitely not going to be a one size fits all solution. Some people love working at home, some people can’t wait to get back into the office.¬†

There’s so many different options out there for people now, where they want to work or these different coworking spaces that are there that we didn’t know about, and then realized that there is one down the road and a coffee shop where they can go and work instead. So, there definitely will be a new normal emerging as we come out of the pandemic, and I think it’s going to be an ever evolving thing. It’s not going to stay still. We’ve seen how quickly things can change now overnight, who would have predicted we’d be in this situation in about two years ago? And who knows what’s going to crop up in the future.¬† I think we’re constantly going to be adapting and I think the key for people really is going to be choice. They can choose how and where they work and everyone might have their own unique normal in the way that they work, and I think companies are going to be very much having to adapt and accommodate all those different types of normal.


Bernie J Mitchel  6:05  

You have all the data and I have the opinion, but I think companies have been forced to appreciate that people want to work in their own ways. Is that my hope and dream or is that the actual reality of the situation?


Sarah  6:26  

No, I definitely think that that is the way companies are going. I mean, we’re seeing the highest interest we’ve ever seen on our website for flexible workspace which indicates that people are able to work more flexibly, and companies are going to have to move in that direction. And it’s funny to say people will start voting with their feet. If a lot of companies are allowing you to work from anywhere, people are going to have to pretty much follow suit and there’s always going to be some companies and industries where you can’t work flexibly, or you need to be in an office.

But the majority, I think certainly from the demand that we’re seeing for Flex Space, which is rebounding higher than ever, that does indicate to me that the flexibility is the way forward and companies are starting to adopt that approach. Pre-pandemic we probably saw majority of demand coming from smaller companies whereas now we’re definitely seeing larger companies getting on board and certainly looking at flex as a viable solution to their portfolios, to inject that adaptability and flexibility which they didn’t have before. So, I definitely think that more and more companies are getting on board with the flexible approach,


Bernie J Mitchel  7:44  

As you have watched this space over the years, why do people want to get back to the office? Because I can’t stand working at home, and there’s the mental health issue. I was at home, and I like my home, but I was going nuts just being there all the time so, there’s that issue, but what do people miss about the office?


Sarah  8:09  

I think a key thing that everybody has missed is probably the collaboration. We know we’ve all done a million teams calls meetings over the past year and it can’t replicate what you get in a face-to-face meeting or even just the ability to grab a coffee in the kitchen and bump into someone in the company, have a quick catch up or just come around and ask a quick question. As human beings I think we all need that physical interaction and contact with people.

¬†And the research we’ve done recently as to what will be the new purpose of the office now when people do go back, and a collaboration meeting hub somewhere to bounce ideas off each other, that’s definitely coming out on top as a key purpose for the office they need to when they do go to the office. It needs to have a purpose; they need to go to do specific work or specific meetings. You need somewhere that people can go to get that sense of belonging and that they belong to a company, in a team. People who have joined new companies during the pandemic haven’t even met face-to-face or been into the office, and that’s what they’re really lacking and going to miss. Being able to go into the office and feel that you belong to that company and understand what their values and culture is all about, which is very difficult to get when you’re at home. If you’ve already been with the company for a number of years, you’ve already got that ingrained in you working from home, but for those who just started, that’s something that they really going to need, is that place to go.


Bernie J Mitchel  9:53  

So, there’s Jeannine who’s part of the Coworking Assembly. We’ve been working like non-stop for five years now and met loads of times. During the pandemic we became part of a company which is 50 people spread around the world, and the only person I’ve met face-to-face is Jeannine. And I think the only person she’s met face-to-face is me and Alex, the founder of the company, and I love it. I’ve been working this way for over a decade now, so I’ve worked on lots of projects and stuff, and I’ve always been remote in different countries, and I work towards that. I even did a course on how to work remotely in 2014. It is really freaky sitting in my office here with my roommate and working with all these people around the world. It’s like there’s like an alternate reality and I’m used to it. What I’ve seen is everyone’s kind of left Zone 1 in London, and if you own a coworking or workspace in Zones 6,5 and 4 in London, there are lots of operators I know that have opened spaces in the area. Is that something you’re seeing in the data?


Sarah  11:31  

Yeah, we’ve definitely seen trends within our data. We’re seeing rise in interest in the more suburban markets. We talk about a lot of what we call the hub and spoke model. So, you’re going to essentially have your hub office, which will be your key office maybe in London and big city in which you will then be supported by smaller offices that are strategically located closer to where people live depending on the workforce, where there’ll be located. We did a recent blog on our website on occupancy levels and how those have changed over the course of the pandemic. When you look at central London, and where everyone’s going, the office is dead, no one’s ever going to want to travel into central London again, why would you? You can work at home.¬†

We are seeing that occupancy rise as well so, it’s very much kind of a two-pronged approach, there’ll certainly be an increase in suburban demand and people will want to work close to where they live at least for probably part of the week. But people still want to go into central offices. They are still going to want to go into central London. You can’t replicate that experience and the ineffable thing. So, you’re not going to see that disappear, which is I think that maybe at the very start of the pandemic, people were thinking that we can work from home, we no longer need the office, the office is dead. The longer we’ve worked from home I think we’ve realized that actually, although that is true to an extent, it’s certainly not going to replicate it and it’s not going to eradicate it totally. And we are seeing demand bounce back in bigger cities and central locations as well for those that want to. Something I read says rather than being dead, central London is actually going to get younger because it’s actually these younger generations, people at the university starting new jobs, they’re the people that are going to want to be in an office. They’re going to still want to be in an office and want to learn from their peers face-to-face in person. So, it’s very much going to be that suburban demand will increase but by no means are central locations and towns going to disappear altogether. It’s very much going to be a balancing act between what works for each company, I think.


Bernie J Mitchel  13:56  

I really like that idea, because I live near a tube by a train station, and it takes like 18 minutes to get to the street. So, working here I can walk to my office. And then if someone says, oh do you fancy a coffee? I can actually say get on the train and go in Galva level four station, do that come back, and it’s so much nicer to do that if it comes up than it is t battle through that rush hour.


Sarah  14:29  

I said at the beginning, that you’ve got that choice and that’s going to be the key. You don’t have to go into essential office every day, but if you want or something comes up,¬† you have that opportunity and that’s the key. That’s what’s going to make people happier and improve their mental health and everything at work. It’s all about choice and what works for one person might not work for another and you’ve got that option and you can go on work where its better or if you’ve got a meeting one day you’re meeting with someone else who might live further out, you can go and work in local coworking spaces nearer to them. That choice is going to open up so many possibilities in the world of work.


Bernie J Mitchel  15:11  

In your Coworking Spain talk, there was a bit about the demand from bigger companies in places like Malaga or seaside towns, there was a demand going up and you said something about what a big company expects and will get in shortage or the center of Madrid is very different from the experiences provided by a coworking space by the beach, and something about investment so, can you riff on that?


Sarah  15:44  

We can talk and say people are going to want to go move and work in these outer locations, go work on the beach where its sunny. At the end day you can only do that if the spaces are there to enable that. So, talking about larger corporate companies, what they’re going to expect from a coworking space in terms of the quality and immunities that they’re used to, if they’ve got a big central location in a capital city, compared to what they might get in one of the smaller coastal resorts is going to be very different. And so, in order for that to actually succeed, we’re going have to see some more investment from operators, be that the big players or even more local providers who can offer a more bespoke quality service, but we’re going to need those to invest more into those locations for that to be able to happen.¬†

As we’re seeing the demand start to grow and build momentum in these areas, if there’s no supply there to service that demand, it‚Äôs going to have to go elsewhere. So, they’re going to have to work to catch up in order to capitalize on that demand. And I think talking about the quality, it doesn’t have to come from one of the big players. We did some research recently on the US and what we’re seeing is the more mid-smaller operators who are the high-end boutique ones or the ones who are expanding. Because now that people are working from home, to get them back out into the office, they need something special to make them do that commute to get them back into the office and they want the same kind of amenities that you can get at home.¬†

You can go and sit if you got an informal meeting, you can take a laptop and sit in the lounge on the sofa. You want to be able to do that in a coworking space as well or grab coffee, change rooms to get different lighting, you can get change of scene, which we can do at home we’re used to, and that’s what people are going to now want in their coworking spaces. So, I think be those who can offer a unique experience, in a unique service, that are going to be the ones who are going to see a lot of demand in the coming months.


Bernie J Mitchel  18:00  

Obviously we’d like to do Vegas and slippers, but is it a at home environment or is it a snazzy office? One of my mates did this poll on LinkedIn the other day saying what do you most want from your coworking space. And I was horrified because 65% of people said it’s design that is most important. And I was hoping they’d say things like community and belonging. I work in a really nice office here and it definitely makes me feel a bit more serious about what I do, whereas if I worked on beanbags in a warehouse I might not take work seriously and even that is probably quite a sensible thing nowadays. But what do people want from a flexible workspace for coworking? What are they thinking they want and what they actually want?


Sarah  19:01  

I was speaking to some of our operators recently. I think what they want when they go back is that they still want to have their own private workspace so they can still work in their own office. But what they want is all of those coworking shared amenities available to them so that they can then just go and sit in a more relaxed lounge area for a bit if they want. I think having the ability to make private phone calls is probably a big thing. Now we’re so used to just being able to call anyone at home because no one can hear you. Having telephone booths or something like that in the office so that you can make your private phone calls, and that’s going to be really important. So, I think probably working from home is almost what¬† people don’t want at least in the short-term because they’re used to those comforts at home and to get them back into the office. But as you spend more time in the office and people want to collaborate more, I think design is important, it‚Äôs what people are going to be expecting. They want a nice office, a nice place to be able to work, they want everything on their fingertips, they want to be able to change lighting, change heating, grab a coffee at the tap of a button. And they’re going to expect I think, a much higher level of service in an office to maybe what they were expecting before where it was just an office you go there, you work, you come home. You really demand too much from it. Now you’re going to be demanding these home comforts.


Bernie J Mitchel  20:34  

There are so many places where you can grab coffee at the tap of a button, and the coffee you get is very touch and go. That’s my main thing. I could have no walls and be wet all day but as long as I’ve got a good espresso, whether creamer stays intact for at least 10 seconds after I received it, I’m happy. What else is really top of mind? Because¬† as we began, the whole thing shifted. This time last year every day something was changing, something was moving. I was looking at your Coworking Spain talk, did that come out last week or the week before?


Sarah  21:20  

That was a couple of months ago now. Yeah, it was back in March. That’s when it was done but it was only kind of released live to the world.


Bernie J Mitchel  21:35  

That makes my question even better, what’s changed since you did that talk? Because if things move at 100 miles an hour, whether we can lockdown/ lock in what people demand, bigger companies saying, we’re never going back to the office and all this type of stuff. Are there any things have changed since you spoke at Coworking Spain?


Sarah  22:01  

For me, probably one thing that I think has changed is that we’ve always talked about if there’s going to be changing where we work, where you can be located, and that was kind of the big topic for a long time. But I think that’s almost now being taken a step further and it’s more about how do we work. Everyone’s already almost accepted that you can work from anywhere. What’s important is how you’re going to be able to work, which is kind of all-around what we spoke about, the office design, the amenities. That’s becoming more important than just where. Just because you can work from your local coworking center, that’s not going to be enough, it’s going to be what do they offer, what services can you get there or do you still go back into your big office where you’ve got your on-site gym, your restaurant downstairs, and all these kinds of amenities. So, I think there’s almost been that shift from just kind of where we’re going to work. We can work from anywhere, we’re going to offer that flexibility but actually how are we going to work within these spaces, is for me now the kind of new way of thinking about work. I think, especially as people are now starting to go back to the office, those questions are coming up more and people are actually thinking about how is it they’re working within the offices, what’s the purpose?


Bernie J Mitchel  23:20  

Everyone had their habits broken, and they’re coming back. It’s almost¬† like the first day back at school after the summer holidays, but some holidays lasted a year. Where can we find you, Sarah? And do you contribute to any publications or blogs or anything like that?


Sarah  23:49  

Yes, so on our website,¬†, there’s our latest blog around occupancy and how that’s changed so, do take a look at that. You can email me Anytime anyone has any questions on say any market globally, we’ve got a huge coverage.


Bernie J Mitchel  24:15  

I would recommend a scout of The Instant Group’s website for making a business decision. Thanks very much for your time today Sarah, and thanks very much, folks for, again, listening to what we put out here. If you go to, and you will get this podcast. We publish articles and events every year and after the summer breakers in Europe, everyone leaves town for the summer. We’re coming back with the¬† Rural Coworking Project and European Freelancers Week. And also in London Coworking Assembly, we’re having our first in-person meeting since March 2020, so, if you’re in town, you’re welcome to that. Thanks very much. Stay safe and take care of each other.

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