Diligent executives in Africa take an interest in the kind of workspaces they provide for employees. They wrangle about the pros and cons of open plan offices. They challenge IT to make virtual meetings easier. They engage employee committees on areas for rest and food. They compete with each other on who gets which private office.
This marks a positive evolution. The previous ‘Lions of Business’ generation focused only on how the look and feel of the workspace projected their own self image. Real or imagined.
More entrepreneurial businesses in Africa are opting for shared working spaces. Many are incubated in such environments, which tend to be cheaper and are certainly more sociable than formal offices.
Employee attitudes towards workplaces are also changing as people express the need for more flexible ways of working. Two hours in Nairobi’s chaotic traffic is stimulus enough for most staff to ask why they need to be tied to the 8-5 routine of yesteryear.
Work-life integration is now becoming something people look for from employers, so offering a workspace that enables this is important to attracting and retaining talent. Millennials, in particular, expect more from their work environment. According to a recent UK study by KPMG, 69 per cent of Millennials would trade other benefits for a better workspace.
WeWork is an American commercial property company that began life providing shared workspaces for technology startups. Now they say: "WeWork is no longer only for co-working and startups. As people increasingly demand flexibility and enterprises crave more simplicity and agility on a global scale, large companies are embracing shared-space solutions that enable them to grow faster.”
In its first ten years, WeWork developed the insight that “employees perform best when they’re engaged and have the opportunity to connect on a human level”. So the company designs workspaces that encourage collaboration and interaction through innovation. Technology powers its network. Members are able to turn everyday frustrations like booking conference rooms and checking in guests into easy and painless experiences. WeWork’s members now range from large enterprises like banks to sole traders like designers, writers, and app developers. They benefit from being part of the WeWork community, and their employees enjoy access to discounted health insurance and gym memberships, special events and an internal social network for professional development.
Thirty per cent of the Fortune 500 are now members and many say it has helped them enter new markets.
But WeWork’s journey hasn’t been smooth - they lost US$2bn in 2018. In January 2020 co-founder McKelvey said the strategy to save WeWork is to slow down expansion and focus on the product.
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside