How Airbnb Inspired Us To Change the Office Leasing Sector
In 2022, recruitment business leader Jon Dweck had an office sitting empty for two days a week. His employees at Pod Talent wanted to embrace a hybrid approach to working, spending three days a week in the office and two days working remotely, but this meant that nearly £100,000 per year would be wasted on unused office days.
Fortunately, creative communications agency PrettyGreen had the same problem – and they only needed an office for two days a week. Pod Talent made a deal with PrettyGreen to have alternating use of the same workspace, and office marketplace Space32 was born.
The concept of Space32 was initially inspired by Airbnb’s approach to reinventing the travel industry. Jon and co-founder Rich Fine discuss their experience establishing Space32, and how landlords and business leaders need to embrace the shift towards hybrid working.
What was your first experience with Airbnb?
Jon: I first used Airbnb for a long weekend in Brussels with my wife. The apartment was unbelievable and like no other place I’d stayed in before – it was someone’s home that was beautifully decorated, in an amazing location, but for the same cost as a budget hotel room.
Rich: My background is in the commercial sector of the hospitality industry. When Airbnb came on the scene, about 10-15 years ago, there was a fair amount of what I could call ‘dismissive nervousness’ from hotels. There was a collective thought that Airbnb’s vision wasn’t going to work – but this hasn’t transpired as the business has become really successful.
The hotel industry is very formal and archaic and simply had to adapt to new practices to keep up. In the past, you wouldn’t be able to book a trip yourself online as everything was done in-person or over the phone with an agent. Airbnb really shook things up, and it paved the way for new travel marketplaces like Booking.com and Expedia.
What inspiration did you take from Airbnb to establish Space32?
Rich: We spotted the direct connectivity between businesses seeking office spaces and those providing it, with travellers looking for somewhere to stay and hosts providing their homes. Just as Airbnb removes the need for an agent and connects people directly, Space32 connects businesses who can fulfil the other’s needs.
John: As well as the analogy, we were inspired by the Airbnb platform itself. When we started to explore what Space32’s marketplace could look like, Airbnb was the clear frontrunner in terms of its user experience. While the process of finding an office to move into is never going to be quite the same as the process of shortlisting a holiday destination, the look and feel of Airbnb is very user-focused. That was really important to us, so we’ve worked to ensure the user experience on the Space32 platform is clean, crisp and simple.
However, we’re not just looking to replicate what’s been done elsewhere. We’re currently building longlisting and shortlisting functionality for space seekers, and at the moment there’s nothing to take the lead from in commercial or residential renting, let alone any other industry. We’re taking the same thought process from Airbnb but we’re reinventing the wheel for the commercial leasing sector, pioneering the way for commercial space seekers to have a completely new and modern user experience.
"By automating and streamlining the process at a micro level, we’re improving the space seeker’s experience and putting them back at the forefront.”
What can hybrid office hosts learn from Airbnb?
Jon: Being a hybrid office host is like having an Airbnb guest – but just the one – on a long-term commitment.
Like Airbnb, hybrid office hosts will often offer a unique space and it’s true that the details really matter. You want people to walk in and see themselves comfortably working there straight away. If you can provide all of the same finishing touches – like aesthetic decor, breakfast materials, relaxing breakout spaces etc. – people really start to feel at home. This is so important in today’s world of working; if you want your staff to come to the office, they have to feel at home when they’re there. It shouldn’t feel like a compromise and it isn’t enough to think of an office to just plug in and work. It has to be an environment that’s worth leaving the house for.
“If you want your staff to come to the office, it has to be an environment that’s worth leaving the house for.”
How does Space32 simultaneously support businesses seeking space and those providing space?
Jon: Our marketplace connects forward-thinking teams on both sides of the equation and finds a sustainable solution that works for everyone.
There’s a lot of choice out there for space seekers – which can be quite overwhelming – so our aim is to cut through the noise in the market. We’re building an algorithm so that business leaders will just need to tell us about their team, and the information they provide is converted into practical solutions that will suit their team’s characteristics.
“Business leaders looking to increase their team’s productivity will need to provide a flexible solution, and a hybrid office really is a balanced middle-ground that can work for everyone.”
Unfortunately, the office leasing sector has never prioritised smaller businesses. Because of the manual nature of establishing a lease agreement, it takes the same amount of work to move a 10-person team into an office as a 50-person team. By automating and streamlining the process at a micro level, we’re improving the space seeker’s experience and putting them back at the forefront.
We have loads of new functionality planned for space providers that has never been seen in the office leasing sector but right now if we tell you we’d have to kill you! The functionality planned is to ensure that space providers will save money and time and be able to make better informed decisions.
How do you see hybrid offices impacting commercial landlords?
Rich: Eventually, supply has to come in line with demand. 10 years ago, the first serviced office providers didn’t exist in the same way they do now, and flexible office space was a new innovation. Serviced offices are now predicted to take up 30% of the commercial real estate market by 2030.
This means that landlords are going to need to evolve and embrace a new way of commercial leasing. They’ll have to become more flexible in the way they look at their own leases and decide what the best usage of their space is. As data evolves and market intelligence improves, landlords will be able to make better-informed decisions for how they can lease their space more effectively.
“We need to champion the importance of business communities so that work doesn’t become a purely transactional relationship. This means setting time to be together in-person and feeling like you’re a part of something.”
How do business leaders need to adapt to the modern workplace?
Jon: The reality is that most people don’t want to come into the office 5 days a week, and business leaders who push this will struggle to find candidates willing to apply for roles. Different characteristics will always lean towards different working solutions; for example, a tech team may feel more focused working at home, but creatives need in-person collaboration to bounce ideas off one another. Business leaders looking to increase their team’s productivity will need to provide a flexible solution, and a hybrid office really is a balanced middle-ground that can work for everyone.
As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to add something to society, which means leading the young people who will become the leaders of tomorrow. A new generation is now entering the workplace having never worked full time in an office or realised the value of social and collaborative opportunities with their peers. Good leaders will recognise that employees at the start of their career journey need more structure.
Onboarding experiences, socialising opportunities, and training and development are much more effective when they’re held in person and can help younger employees feel like they’re part of the community. While remote working has its benefits, we need to champion the importance of business communities so that work doesn’t become a purely transactional relationship. This means setting time to be together in-person and feeling like you’re a part of something. And that’s a powerful thing – when communities come together, change happens.
Find an office worth leaving the house for
Struggling to find your perfect office in London? Space32 can help. Our expert team is on hand to help you find the space that’s just right for your team. Take a look at our available spaces or get in touch at email@example.com.