Flexible working. The pandemic has taught us we can work whilst juggling the demands of home life, the precedent has been set and now to retain talent and improve our businesses we need to carry through with flexible working.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Will Kinnear.

HEWN is the UK’s leading specialist flexible workspace agency. Our clients include flexible workspace operators and property owners across the UK, from major PLCs to independent companies.

We advise property owners, funds, investors and developers throughout the UK on how the flexible workspace sector is disrupting the commercial office market. Advising on their asset strategies, and their opportunities to partner with flexible workspace providers or provide their own product.

To date, we have completed more than 20 joint venture/management agreements, totalling more than 500,000 sq.ft. throughout the UK. In addition, we have also acquired in excess of 750,000 sq.ft. on behalf of the UK’s leading flexible workspace operators.

We assist flexible workspace operators with their expansion strategies, advising them on the opportunities available to acquire space on traditional and non-traditional agreements or freehold purchases.

Will Kinnear MRICS Director.

Will started his career at Maynards in Sheffield before moving to Rogers Chapman (now JLL) in the late nineties. He then followed the dot.com boom (and bust!) to San Francisco with Grubb & Ellis.

Will has specialised in the flexible workspace sector since 2005, advising property owners and operators throughout the UK on their flexible workspace strategy. He was co-founder and director of GKRE in 2012 and created HEWN in 2020.

His clients include Aberdeen Standard Investments, AshbyCapital, L&G IM, Moorgarth, Argyll Club, The Boutique Workplace Co., Clarendon, IWG, and numerous other national and regional operators and private property owners.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

“Like many in commercial property, I went to university and came out joining a graduate programme — a very typical path. A year into my programme I was offered an opportunity in San Francisco with a real estate brokerage specialising in the booming data and telecoms industry. It was an incredible opportunity, the sector was in the middle of the dot.com bubble in Silicon Valley, but with the gargantuan ups, the downs came crashing as the bubble burst. Being at the start of my career, it was eye opening — painful at the time — but in hindsight it was the making of me. I was introduced to the peaks and troughs of my industry — property, and I was taught the value of starting again. Resilience is an under-appreciated character trait, and learning to adapt means that we can ride the tides of life.

“With this knowledge I decided to return to the UK and start my own business. Working in the US, whilst part of a large corporate brokerage, the reality was I was actually working for myself. Which inspired me to start my own business — which is what I’ve done ever since.”

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

“Fundamentally work isn’t going to change, automation works to a degree but you need the human touch to make things work and whilst we will utilise technology we will not want to create a position where humans are not required . What will change is how we work, the pandemic has fast-forwarded the trajectory of work, it will be more dynamic and flexible — pushing productivity over time spent at a desk.

“The classic ‘Office’ died with the advent of mobile technology — laptops and phones — leaving offices to become a space of community, creativity and project progression. Leaving the day-to-day to be more flexible meaning we can choose when to work and where.”

“The office will become one of many workplaces employees, employers and individuals can work from. It is how we create workplaces that people want to be in as opposed to need to be in, is the greatest challenge facing businesses and real estate owners alike. It is going to be a steep learning curve but those that can reimagine the office as a place of not only work, but community, wellbeing and a place where people can feel comfortable will no doubt leave the rest behind.”

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

“Listen to your employees — a business without staff is going to fail. You need to flex to appeal to your staff otherwise your competitors will — and you will lose talent.”

“By providing spaces and working practices that employees feel they are needed and respected will ultimately mean that they feel empowered and will endeavour to be productive”

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

“The biggest gap between employers and employees will be flexibility — COVID is not a blip, it is the acceleration of the future of work. It is hard for businesses to relinquish power and control, but ultimately employers will need to let go of the reins a little to accommodate the needs of their employees.

“The people and culture side of a business is not considered profit generating, which means much of the time it is not valued — but more often than not, this is now the decider between if a business succeeds or not. The answer is to listen and to act with speed but not haste — it needs to be done right and to strike a balance between the two parties.”

“There will always be a gap between what employers are willing to invest in their staff, working practices and spaces and what all employees want. It is listening to employees and learning from mistakes made that will allow employers to understand what creates a happy and productive workforce whilst not spending vast amounts on gimics and ideas that ultimately won’t work.”

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

“If the pandemic happened 10 years ago, we would be in trouble, broadband, especially in the UK, was either non-existent or slow, we only had skype and mobile technology was poor and expensive. We may have seen the return to work/the office as the only natural choice as we were ill prepared for any form of flexible working. Now we all have access to laptops, mobile phones, tablets or PC’s, with cameras and microphones which meant that we were able to manage with the overnight change forced upon us.”

“Over the last 2 years, communication technology has been fast tracked and we’re now in a place it works — it’s not perfect — but it works. Now everyone knows about flexible working, they can’t unknow it. Most people will now always want flexibility at work to some degree and will choose jobs that allow them to do so”

“Flexible working has been thrust upon us, it is relatively easy to understand how we can work remotely and what impact this has on employees and employers. What is difficult to understand at this stage is how this will affect physical workspaces and real estate as a whole. Whilst some people are able and willing to work from home, this is not always the case, and most are likely to require some form of workplace either close to home or back in the office. It is down to employers to understand the financial and physical impact of these opportunities, and this will take some time to formulate and put into practice as the real estate market doesn’t move very quickly!”

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

“In the UK, there are policies going through to become law which reinforce the role of flexibility in the workplace. And with a more flexible workplace, we will naturally make the workplace more diverse. But what we need to do next is make sure we meet the fundamental needs of people, with a place to socialise and a place to create.

In making the world flexible, adaptable and using technology to adapt to this, we must not forget fundamental needs: we are at the core social animals so we need to facilitate this need. We will, however need to provide spaces where individuals can have privacy on their terms and can decide when they want to socialise or collaborate.”

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

“It has to change, there’s huge opportunity and energy to go about it. We can work differently — with a shift as fundamental as the advent of machines. The door of the future of work has opened but you can’t unsee what you have been exposed to for the past 24 months. And so we must put together social demands with technology advances.”

“There are endless opportunities for businesses, employers and employees, most of which haven’t yet been discovered I am sure. When I talk about real estate to property owners and flexible workspace operators I am keen to ensure that they understand that they are not only providing four walls but more importantly they should be providing service and hospitality for all their occupiers. What they provide in terms of space, product and service is down to them and they have to understand who they are appealing to. It is this same conundrum that business owners now face when trying to create an ethos, a workspace policy or a flexible working policy and there will no doubt be many mistakes made on this journey. However, as long as you are willing to make these mistakes and learn from what works and what doesn’t work for you and your employees then you will be in a great and exciting position to make the most of the future of work.”

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

“Employees are competing with each other to find ways to improve mental wellbeing — some offer light-touch solutions such as ping-pong tables in the workplace, gym memberships and in-work Yoga/Pilates classes; others are taking it further to provide private counselling, life-coaches or duvet days. I think these are all great initiatives, but the better innovations are around flexibility — allowing team members to work where they like and when they like, more companies are moving to a 4 day week — which is demonstrating higher levels of productivity. The best initiative for mental health and wellbeing is to ensure people have agency — which supports employees to thrive, in work and out.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Re-Evaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

“The Great Resignation, The Great Reconfiguration and The Great Re-Evaluation are essentially the same thing, and what employers need to appreciate is that the tables have turned, they need to listen, change and respond — these things sound simple but they are uncomfortable to hear. Workplace culture feels out of the scope from the day-to-day of business but they are essential to evolution and to a happy and productive workforce.”

“As mentioned, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution here, every company needs to find its own way through the forest. By listening to employees, by learning from others and from making mistakes, businesses can, if they are willing, create cultures that suit the individuals they are trying to employ and work with. This won’t suit everyone and there is a generational gap that won’t be plugged, but by understanding the need for change, companies will be able to create cultures that work for them.”

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Flexible working. The pandemic has taught us we can work whilst juggling the demands of home life, the precedent has been set and now to retain talent and improve our businesses we need to carry through with flexible working.
  2. Remote working. Much like flexible working, we need to adapt to our employees working remotely and flex to accommodate this. This doesn’t just mean working from home, its working from co-working or project hubs across the country and equipping colleagues with technology that supports this.
  3. Diversity. As workplaces become more flexible, our staff will be more diverse as we are unlocking opportunities for all. Diverse workplaces are better workplaces, but we need to support inclusion too. This is the next big education piece.
  4. Mental Health and wellbeing. Life and work are now intertwined, health and wellbeing are now seen as part of the workplace brief as we think more holistically about employees. Over the next year, new technologies will advance to support employees and I suspect we will see more businesses shift their work-life balance policies.
  5. Real Estate — how/where we work. The office used to be a hub, it was the home of a business and within businesses there were people concerning themselves with this function. What we’ll see is business concentrate their focus on the business at hand, employee wellbeing with real estate farmed out to flexible space operators to help provide quality workspaces with hospitality as part of the offering.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“A quote I look at time and time again is “The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living” — no one likes change, and once we’ve cracked the code it’s easy to continue with the same methodology, but, we need to move forward and that means listening, adapting and understanding. It has the same prominence in business as it does in wider life.”

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

“I’d really like to go for lunch with Will Smith, he’s been a relevant figure for so long — he has not had the easy life that is often portrayed or he portrays. He appears such a likeable man but also incredibly adaptable. There’s a lot to be learnt from him!”

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.