Companies have long talked about work-life harmony, and with the shift in how we work, fueled by the pandemic, it’s given us permission to challenge conventional work models. It’s clear that major offices just don’t make sense anymore. What if we reimagined workplaces to take advantage of community spaces that already exist but are underutilized during the day?
At Traction on Demand, the Salesforce consulting and application development company that I run, we think that medium- to large-size companies like ourselves should be inviting small independent businesses, that rely on daily customers, to creatively collaborate—and redefine the workspace. By partnering with small businesses like restaurants, bike shops, and microbreweries, companies can create local hubs for employees to gather and work from. Organizations like local legions and veterans halls are financially struggling right now and have spaces that are unoccupied during business hours. We plan to subsidize a portion of the rent costs for these partners in exchange for space. The aim is to help small businesses bring in a steady income for space they already have but are underutilizing during the workweek. These spaces would function as a hybrid area for workers to immerse themselves in thought, or collaborate with one another. Not only does this encourage a sense of community, but it also helps offset the operational costs of small businesses and community spaces at times when their foot traffic is low.
Businesses that may want to implement this concept, which we’re calling “shops,” should look for physical facilities in areas that are largely concentrated with employees. Right now, we’re looking to set up the shops in spaces with clusters of 100 or more workers. By choosing shop locations that are within walking or biking distance, employees will no longer have to commute to a single central hub. Employees want to have a say in where the shops are and what amenities they provide, so we’ve surveyed our team to help us make data-driven decisions based on their input.
Making this third option as accessible as both the traditional office and the virtual one is important. Shops should be easy to reserve through an online booking platform so that employees can choose when and where they want to work—with minimal barriers. An online booking system can also be used to collect data around the most popular hubs. Businesses can use this data to provide suggestions on where employees may want to work on any given day, based on who else will be there, and maximize productivity.
Our goal with the shop concept is not to save money on real estate. The cost savings from this model should be reinvested into employee well-being, and used to offset work-from-home expenses, such as internet and electricity bills. This model provides geographical flexibility, allowing employees the option to not only choose if and when they want to go into a space, but where. As a business leader, I believe it’s our responsibility to support other local businesses so we can all grow together. By creating hubs in the communities where our employees live, we’re fostering greater community connection and business growth.
There’s no cookie-cutter approach on how to make shops an integral part of where people work, and we’re going to have to prove to these partners that it will be beneficial for them. But I believe that turning unused community spaces into work spaces could precipitate a shift in where we work, one driven by the housing market and the need for sustainability.
Businesses all have a shared responsibility to look at how we can be better participants in the consumption of space. We all feel the effects of the housing crisis. The solution from real estate developers has been to make more, smaller spaces and charge the same amount of money. Think about a typical commercial office space: If it’s in use from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’s being left completely vacant for two-thirds of the day. Rethinking the approach to hybrid work gives us the opportunity to also rethink these spaces and how we use them.
Businesses are also looking at ways to achieve their sustainability goals. Because we’re going to move work closer to where people are and use existing spaces, this will help us reach our carbon-neutral objectives. But beyond that, this will start pushing us to think about how we can be a net contributor to the world environmentally—and not just neutral.
When companies demonstrate their willingness to be a positive contributor—not only to their employees but also to local businesses, the environment, and the entire community—everyone wins.
Greg Malpass is the founder and CEO of Traction on Demand.