‘Soon, employees will be able to hire a desk space anywhere in the world’

  2 November 2021  |    Interview

Being chained to an office rental contract for years is a thing of the past – these days, companies can rent offices on an hourly basis. The International Workplace Group (IWG) is a market leader in the field of flexible offices. Ewout Holst looks after Dutch and international businesses for them. “Soon, we may be able to include home offices in our portfolio.”

I’m meeting Ewout at Spaces Zuidas, one of IWG’s roughly 130 locations in the Netherlands. He has been working for IWG as vice president enterprise sales for the EMEA and the UK for a little over two years now. The company offers solutions for companies with a large-scale global real-estate portfolio, providing various products and services such as flexible offices, meeting rooms and memberships. Its best-known brands are Regus, Signature by Regus, HQ, No18 and Spaces, all of which have their own separate brand identity. While Regus offices, for example, tend to be structured in a classic office layout, Spaces offers modern, trendy layouts with a focus on co-working.

From long-term office rentals to one-hour workspaces – how did that happen?
“Everything has become more flexible. The past decade has brought about a flexible workspace revolution. This applies to office rentals, too: clients used to have little choice when it came to the duration of the contracts. Now this is a lot more flexible. At IWG, we take into account that businesses grow and change quickly. While a multinational business may have taken 75 years to grow to its current size, these days you get tech companies that gain millions of customers in a matter of months. We distinguish three types of businesses: fast-growing companies, which are flexible from the start; national companies, which have a domestic real-estate portfolio; and multinational companies, which have an international, mixed portfolio that has grown alongside the company itself, through mergers and acquisitions. This makes them complex clients.”

Has COVID-19 increased the demand for flexible solutions?
“It’s too early to say, but it does look like it. Lockdown and working from home has forced companies to accept the fact that things can be done differently. 2020 has been a year of learning, analysing and preparing for revised office requirements and real-estate strategies. Many companies are in a phase of reorientation. There is a new awareness of the possibility of flexible solutions. And when I say flexible, I don’t necessarily mean ‘temporary’ – flexibility can also be a long-term solution. In terms of real estate, companies will need to adapt more to individuals – to their employees. This will lead to more choice in workspace solutions that can be customised by the employees. It’s something that IWG had already been working on, not least because of all the different concepts that we offer. In addition, we’re looking into the different typologies of working that you find at more traditional companies, and what the needs are there. This means we can offer a product that suits the employees of those particular companies. We are also looking into whether we can include employees’ home offices in our product. Technology will play a big role in this: soon, employees will be able to rent on-demand workspaces at all times and all over the world.”

Which typology do you belong to, do you think?
“I see myself as a highly mobile independent worker. I love the flexibility that you get when you start the day at home and have some meetings scheduled elsewhere later in the day. In a previous job I was working in Africa, where the infrastructure could be quite poor at times, also digitally. That’s where I learnt to be able to work everywhere and deal with a variety of situations – well, being flexible! I really value having a good work-life balance. Our work and our life experiences are intertwined: losing time on things like being stuck in traffic will have an effect on both.”

How do you achieve this balance?
“By being flexible and goal-oriented. I think it’s important to be mentally and physically fit. I exercise five to six times a week, whenever I get time: be it in the morning, the afternoon or between two meetings. I’m a member of a gym that has the same flexibility as IWG, meaning I can go to any branch across the Netherlands, and so I always have my gym bag with me.”

Do you envision more game changers for the future?
“Digitalisation is an important topic – it’s the biggest and fastest revolution we have experienced. We live in an economy of choice, which will also influence how and where we work. This will have the most far-reaching effects. I hope that the fact that there are ever-smarter ways of working will have a positive effect on our quality of life. Partnerships between companies are another game changer, I think. Spaces at Schiphol, for example, has a partnership with a big tech company. This opens up opportunities and new partnerships for both sides. A campus or innovation district could grow in and around Spaces’ Schiphol location, which would further improve how companies and people work together.”