5 Flexible Workspace Trends Gaining Popularity

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on November 5, 2020
How To Plan A Safer Workplace Now And In The Future

With so many people working remotely, many organizations are adopting flexible workspace strategies. A flexible workspace generally means one without unassigned seats. This makes it easier to accommodate a “hybrid” approach where employees split their time between home and the office. It also allows employers to reduce office density and maintain physical distancing when they return to the workplace.

Here’s a look at what’s driving the need for flexible workspace, along with the five most popular workspace trends.

Flexible workplace drivers

While the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced short-term demand for office space, it has increased employee expectations of the workplace. Employees are anxious to return to the office as a hub of collaboration and innovation, but they also need to feel safe there. Meanwhile, employers see the workplace as a way to establish their brand, attract new talent, and improve employee engagement, according to JLL’s Future of Global Office Demand report.

The report identifies four key drivers impacting the shift to flexible office space strategies:

  • An increase in remote working
  • A need to rethink office design to support physical distancing
  • The adoption of new technology that makes distributed work easier
  • Changes in commuting patterns

How a flexible workplace impacts employee engagement

While the increase in remote work has brought many benefits, it has also impacted employee engagement and productivity. In JLL’s survey of 7,000 employees:

  • 66% said they lacked space to be creative and feel inspired
  • 60% said they were not fully engaged at work
  • 50% said their environment does not allow them to work effectively

Most of all, employees miss the ability to collaborate with each other in an office environment, as the chart below shows.

what employees miss about the office

At the same time, employers understand they have to adjust their office space strategy to accommodate changing workspace trends. Most employees plan to return to the workplace, but many don’t anticipate spending five days a week there anymore. And those who live far from a centrally located office may be looking for alternative spaces where they can be productive without a long commute.

As a result, many employers are considering flexible workspace trends like these.

5 flexible workspace trends

Hot desking

Hot desking allows employees to choose seats on a first-come, first-served basis. This flexible workspace strategy first became popular years ago as a way to increase collaboration between employees. Hot desking increases the ratio of employees to desks, maximizing space utilization. However, many employees are less enthusiastic about the idea of having to find an available desk each day. And at a time when we’re all more concerned about spreading germs, they have qualms about sitting down at a desk when there’s no record of who used it recently and whether it was properly sanitized.

In a recent survey, 19% said they wanted their employer to eliminate hot desking entirely when they return to the workplace.


  • Greater flexibility for employees
  • Less wasted space
  • Potential to reduce real estate costs
  • Reduces clutter


  • No guarantee employees will get the desk they want
  • Potential for conflicts over preferred desks
  • No record of which desks have been used
  • Desks need to be sanitized between each use
  • More difficult for employees to find each other

Desk Hoteling

Desk hoteling, or office hoteling, offers the same benefits of a flexible workspace, but with the certainty of reservations. Employees use hoteling software to reserve a desk before they arrive or while they’re in the office. Ideally, the software has a mobile app they can access anywhere. It should also integrate with interactive wayfinding maps and your calendaring system so desk reservations are visible to everyone. You can even integrate desk hoteling software with sensors for the most accurate information about workspace availability.


  • Employees can reserve a desk anytime
  • Less wasted space
  • Potential to reduce real estate costs
  • Reduces clutter
  • Employees can find colleagues easier
  • Enables contact tracing
  • Streamlines cleaning and sanitization


  • Employees may not want to give up assigned seats
  • Requires new technology investment

Activity-based working

Activity-based working (ABW) is similar to other flexible workspace strategies in that employees can choose where they want to work on any given day. However, it’s not just about reserving desks. In an activity-based working environment, employees have access to a variety of spaces designed to support the type of work they’re doing.

Those who need a quiet place to concentrate can reserve a small, private room for the morning and book a larger meeting room to collaborate with colleagues in the afternoon.

Not every activity-based workspace necessarily requires a reservation. Employees can also gather in less formal huddle areas, quickly grab a phone booth or pull up a free chair near a coworker.

While activity-based working has been gaining popularity in recent years as a more structured alternative to a completely open office, employers will likely be more cautious about adopting this strategy in light of COVID-19.

The cornerstone of activity-based working — the ability to move freely around the office throughout the day — may make it more difficult to keep track of which areas have been used and whether they’ve been properly sanitized. The soft seating that was characteristic of many huddle areas seems less ideal today. Common areas meant for casual gatherings can easily become overcrowded. Employers who want to adopt activity-based working will need to consider how to update their workplace design to account for these factors.

For instance, they may want to invest in non-porous furniture with antimicrobial surfaces that are easier to clean.

They may want to consider adding occupancy sensors so they can get a daily report of which spaces have been used each day.

They will also need to set capacity limits for common areas to prevent overcrowding

See how Space-Right™ makes it easy to identify and reconfigure unsafe spaces.


  • Employees can choose from a variety of spaces
  • Improves collaboration
  • Reservations aren’t always required


  • More difficult to clean
  • More difficult to limit capacity
  • Potentially increases office noise and distractions

Office neighborhoods

Office neighborhoods offer many of the same benefits as activity-based working, but with more structure. Neighborhoods can be set up by department or function and act as a “home base” for employees. Rather than choosing from any one of the 500 workspaces within a large office, they go to a designated area where they’ll find familiar faces. There, they can reserve a desk or room as needed. When they need to work with others in another department, they can easily reserve space there.

Office neighborhoods bring back the sense of community many employees miss while working remotely without requiring assigned seats. Each neighborhood can personalize their space by choosing their own decor, as long as it meets general brand guidelines. For instance, they could have a bulletin board with the name of their neighborhood and photos of its team members.

The neighborhood concept works best if employees have a mobile app that makes it easy for them to find where their colleagues are working and reserve space near them.

They also need to be well designed to minimize noise and the spread of germs.


  • Improves space utilization
  • Restores a sense of community
  • Makes it easier for employees to find colleagues
  • Reservations may or may not be required


  • Requires more planning and design
  • Could make it more difficult to form relationships across departments

Coworking spaces

The coronavirus has changed commuting patterns and office demand. Employees who previously commuted long distances in their own vehicles or used public transportation are likely re-evaluating that journey today. For those reasons, JLL’s recent Future of Office Demand report predicts a slower re-entry to offices located in areas that are dependent on public transportation.

At the same time, people still want access to the amenities and social opportunities of large urban areas. The report predicts we’ll see an increase in “distributed urbanization.” This includes a greater demand for well-connected suburbs centered around major cities. Central offices in the heart of downtown will still be appealing to many employees, but they may be supplemented with coworking spaces closer to home.

Coworking spaces give employees the ability to escape the distractions of working from home while accommodating those who live farther away.

They also offer more flexibility for employers reluctant to sign new long-term leases, especially at a time when future office occupancy may be unpredictable. They can rent space by the month or even by the day. If employees using the coworking space no longer need it, the company can simply stop paying for it.


  • No long-term lease
  • Easier to accommodate a distributed workforce
  • Owner responsible for facility management and amenities


  • No control over office design or branding
  • Harder to establish a sense of community

The future of flexible workspace

Although the workforce is more distributed, demand for high-quality office space isn’t going away. While employees appreciate the flexibility of being able to work remotely, JLL’s research shows they miss the ability to socialize and collaborate with others. They need a place to work where they feel inspired and have the technology and resources they need to be productive. That isn’t always possible in a home office.

At the same time, they’ve become accustomed to being able to work anywhere, so they expect more from their workplace than just a desk.

These flexible workspace trends can support a safe, collaborative environment when they are carefully planned and properly implemented. No matter which one you choose, make sure you have the right technology in place to support it.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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