In recent years the number of co-working premises and alternative work spaces on offer has been increasing. However, some experts argue that progress in this direction is still too slow.

Urgent Need to Update the Workplace Concept through Alternative Spaces

The office has become an unwanted source of restriction for many people,” announced Nicole Turbé-Suetens, a teleworking expert, at the beginning of her presentation at a conference entitled ‘Tiers Lieux: quels usages pour l’entreprise’ (Alternative Work Spaces – how can companies make use of them?) hosted by L’Atelier in early June. One after another the speakers argued, with varying degrees of vehemence, the urgency of finding new solutions for office working. The central issue is the attitude of the new generation of employees and professionally qualified people. ‟Fully 93% of young people no longer wish to work in a traditional office,” declared Nathanael Mathieu, co-founder of Paris-based consultancy LBMG Worklabs. Underlying this trend is the fact that ‟the dichotomy between the world of work and people’s private lives is starting to blur,” pointed out sociologist Antoine Burret, arguing that there is now an urgent need in society to solve these issues. Alternative work spaces, which are designed to bridge the gap between working life and private life – are therefore being touted as a viable solution to help companies adjust to the digital era.

Adapting to new employee expectations

The whole rationale behind alternative work spaces is to enable the company to adapt to the multi-faceted expectations of a new generation of employees. The primary issue, according to Nicole Turbé-Suetens, is that digital technology is under-used: ‟Processes are not yet sufficiently digitised”. Speakers underlined however that, aside from the basic need to take on board digital technology, there is in fact a wide range of expectations among today’s workforce.

Providers are going to have to offer a range of solutions”

Users of alternative work spaces come from varied backgrounds. Maya Sérigne, who runs telecoms company Orange’s Villa Bonne Nouvelle co-working space in Paris, which opened last year, told the audience that ‟for the moment, we mainly have white-collar workers there”. Meanwhile Nathanael Mathieu revealed that it is predominantly management personnel who use the LBMG Worklabs facilities, some 62% of whom are independent providers, while 28% are SME staff. Expectations vary widely between the two groups. ‟Providers are going to have to offer a range of solutions,” underlined Mathieu. In fact at the moment, only 6% of alternative work space users are large firms.

Larger companies lagging behind?

So are large firms lagging behind in this area? Conference speakers strongly indicated that the vision and objectives of Human Resources management are generally far removed from the expectations of the workforce. ‟At the present time thinking about alternative work spaces is largely confined to the notion of teleworking or external R&D work,” and companies are not yet incorporating alternative work spaces into their Human Resources policies, explained Antoine Burret. Even though most firms are well aware of the changes in people’s concept of what a workplace is, such requests still have to come from the employee him/herself. Nevertheless, Nicole Turbé-Suetens told the audience that as many as 91% of French companies would like to shift towards a mobile work strategy.

In spite of all the efforts underway, there remains a level of uncertainty around co-working spaces from a legal point of view, which perhaps explains why firms are cautious about taking initiatives. ‟There’s no legal definition of an alternative work space. In legal terms it simply doesn’t exist,” explained Garance Mathias, a Paris-based industry law expert. Many problems may arise as a result of this uncertainty, notable in the field of intellectual property rights. She explained that at the moment the only protection the law provides relates to teleworking and that more precise rules need to be drawn up, stressing: ‟The legal side must not just be ignored. Some thinking ahead will be required in order to build trust.” As regards both the legal aspects and, more generally, the overall development of the alternative work space concept, ‟we haven’t got ten years to move forward to the next stage,” argued Nicole Turbé-Suetens.

By Guillaume Scifo