Coworking spaces

Future of work: reinvented workplace, reinvented city

William Willems has over 20 years’ experience in coworking spaces. Photo: Matic Zorman / Maison Moderne

William Willems has over 20 years’ experience in coworking spaces. Photo: Matic Zorman / Maison Moderne

What is the future of the workplace? William Willems, general regional manager at IWG (which owns coworking offices Spaces and Regus), spoke to us about the rise of flexible working models and what they could do to Luxembourg’s urban geography.

Another Monday morning at work. While waiting for Jana to finish with the coffee machine, you nod hello to Yves as he emerges from the gym downstairs. En route to your desk, coffee finally in hand, you run into Elia and chat about the weekend.

Another typical workday?

Could be. Even if you, Jana, Yves and Elia all work for different companies.

Indeed, instead of an employer, what you and your officemates share is merely that you all live near this particular building. In other words, “workplace” has been divorced from “company” and has gained purely a geographical relevance.

This isn’t necessarily a society-wide picture of the future of the workplace, but William Willems, CEO of IWG, talks about trends that could enable such a scene.

“Ever hear of the 15-minute city?” asks Willems during an interview on Teams. “We’re going to have to reinvent the way cities are organised.”

Made popular last year by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, the 15-minute city is a concept where residents have everything they normally need--workplace, grocery store, etc.--within a 15-minute walk of their home. The movement is ecologically motivated in part, but also reflects the desires of a millennial generation that values flexibility above salary.

And while the pandemic has accelerated the realisation of this vision, the ideas were already there: “With covid-19, everybody discovered that it’s possible to work everywhere,” Willems says. “But we’d been preaching that for a long time.”

In the grand duchy

Compared to a city like Paris, in Luxembourg such spatial reimaginings will be warped by the significant number of border-crossing workers (whose homeworking hours, for tax and social security reasons, are limited). Thus, Willems foresees that flexible office space in the grand duchy’s border zones will become especially popular.

“It’s not for nothing that the Société Générale is moving to Belval,” Willems points out. “I assume a lot of their employees are French.” Lots of blue chips are making similar moves, he adds, citing similar ambitions for his own company. “We need to be in Belval,” he says, and closer to the Belgian and German borders. “We’ve got Leudelange, Bertrange, Livange--that’s good, providing solutions for many customers coming from across the border--but we need to grow our network.”

Numbers-wise, a CBRE study shows that around 2% of Luxembourg’s office space is available for flexible working, which Willems says is projected to rise swiftly to 30%. That might be a little steep, he reckons, but getting to 10% will certainly be easy: “IWG has around 30,000 square metres of flexible space. Can we go to 100,000? Yes, we definitely can.”

All about community

Some big companies will manage to arrange their own flexibility options, but it isn’t only small and medium firms interested in coworking space providers. In fact, Willems reports that two-thirds of IWG’s business in Luxembourg is related to large corporations.

At the same time, he clocks another shift blowing in from the US and UK. “The CDI contract is disappearing, especially in the English cultural countries. And that’s coming to us, because companies don’t want people on their payroll; they prefer to invoice them.”

Such independent workers will need space, of course. And this completes at least one vision of the future workplace: a mix of freelancers, contractors and remotely based employees sharing an environment that offers something beyond Wi-Fi and coffee. “The community aspect is really important,” Willems stresses. “In all of our locations you’ll find it. You see and talk to businesspeople. You have that business mood.”

Many companies are now struggling to bring employees back to the office, he continues. To succeed in doing so, “you’ll need to have a workplace that is really community-minded.”

This article was originally published in Delano’s working in Luxembourg supplement.