The idea that every morning office workers wake early, jump into polluting cars and overcrowded trains, and travel many miles to their place of work will soon seem inconceivable.

Timber can play an important role in the wellbeing of workers.Photo by

Timber can play an important role in the wellbeing of workers.Photo by

The pandemic has highlighted the fact, that it as a model that’s already had its day. Office workers are growing tired of the old ways of working and are increasingly looking to join companies that provide flexible and remote working capabilities.

With city centre living so expensive and the cost of commuting often prohibitive, the appeal of workspaces closer to home is becoming stronger by the day. Where previously the idea of flexible or co-working was considered something tailored for small businesses and entrepreneurs, it is now the world’s largest companies that are driving this trend. Big enterprises are adopting flexible working policies, moving away from relying on a single, central HQ and increasingly basing employees outside of the major metropolitan hubs in flex spaces. Also referred to as the ‘Hybrid’ workspace model.

Most are doing so to improve employee wellbeing by allowing their people to work closer to home, save money, boost productivity and reduce their financial exposure to long term leases. “We are witnessing a wholesale transformation of the way we work. This transformation is characterised by decentralisation, as workplaces move from the large global cities to what we’re calling ‘outer-city’ locations: smaller cities, towns and suburban locations”, says Joanne Bushell, MD of IWG Plc. South Africa, the largest global flexible workspace provider.

For traditionally office-based organisations, going fully remote may seem impossible; for many employees, going fully remote might give them the chills. A hybrid model, however, accommodates all employees—letting those who enjoy the office keep coming in, while those who thrive while working from home, stay at home and those who enjoy both choose freely.

Indeed, using the potential of existing spaces more smartly avoids the need to build new spaces. Thus, the use of resources as well. This model allows access to well-designed areas for all those who wish to use them for a short period or as they need them. There is a new global banter emerging around the importance of a sustainable Circular Economy.

In short, the Circular Economy is a model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.  In a circular economy, the life of a product is extended, its value is maintained, waste is reduced. For example, making use of 10 desks in a business lounge environment can be a workplace for thousands, as they work on different days. Hence, the important relationship between the ‘hybrid’ business model and the circular economy.

This is opposed to the linear economy – also described as a Take – Make – Waste economy.  This has been the desired model since the start of the Industrial Revolution and, it ‘worked’ when resources were plentiful, and the population was smaller.  Our economy currently consumes 70% more resources per year than the earth is capable of replenishing in the same period of time. Thus, creating disturbances in the natural systems that support economic activity and instability for the earth and its inhabitants.

“In the near future, it is possible that there will be a professional workspace available everywhere – from the largest city to the smallest village. This transformation will unlock unprecedented value for workers, businesses and local economies, while providing an important contribution to improving the environment”, Bushell adds.

With people working locally, local amenities and retail outlets will receive a boost and new jobs will be created to service a national network of workspaces. People will save hours from their commutes, improving their work/life balance while making them more productive and healthier. And with travel reduced, carbon emissions will fall and cities will see far less congestion. Meanwhile, local communities will thrive as investment floods in for new infrastructure and facilities.

It goes without saying that by reducing the need for employees to commute long distances, suburban flexible workspaces can play a significant role in helping to reduce fossil fuel consumption, carbon emissions and other pollutants. The benefits here are both global and local. By helping to reduce carbon emissions, suburban flex spaces can form part of an overall response to climate change.

In suburban areas and city centres, meanwhile, fewer road journey over shorter distances will help improve air quality.

With poor air quality increasingly linked to increased rates of morbidity and death, this is a highly significant benefit. According to calculations, the average annual savings in CO₂ emissions amount to 118 metric tonnes of CO₂ per centre per annum, but this varies significantly.

A new suburban workspace can save 118 metric tonnes of CO₂ every year. The availability of local workspace can have an immediate impact on reducing air pollution. Nowhere will this impact be greater than in emerging markets, where the air quality of large cities is routinely poor and hazardous to health.

Moving to a circular economy is a necessity – Mother Earth simply cannot sustain the status quo.

The coworking/flexible office space industry is, in fact, a reuse and reduce industry. Shared or service use models, where an asset is well designed and maintained for the longest amount of time, and services the greatest number of people, is a giant leap to aid a circular economy in South Africa.