- Balder Tol has extensive experience in hospitality and flexible workspaces, and was Airbnb's first Australian employee
- Says organisaitons are eager for a 'third space" that isn't a home or traditional office
- Believes workspaces will still play a major role even with employees who work from home
As part of our ongoing series exploring the careers of real estate and property practitioners throughout Australia, this week we spoke to Balder Tol, the General Manager of WeWork Australia and Southeast Asia – a commercial real estate company providing flexible workspaces globally.
Mr Tol has long held a passion for building communities. He has had extensive experiences across many hospitality roles and was Airbnb’s first employee on the ground in Australia.
Since 2016, he has been at WeWork, meaning he has had to promote workspaces during the pandemic. He discussed why he is passionate about his career and prediction for flexible workspaces such as WeWork into the future.
The power of creating experiences
“From early on in my career, I was drawn to the power of creating experiences for people, and more recently, have welcomed the opportunity to apply hospitality principles to the workplace,” he said.
“Remaining connected in meaningful ways, beyond a screen, is essential to the way people interact.
“Often, people think that a shared workspace is simply a place to work from, but more than providing space, it’s about providing a community and services for businesses.”
The ”third space”
Mr Tol acknowledged that the pandemic accelerated flexible working, a trend he said has been in the making for over ten years. He expects hybrid working to stay, with flexibility being an even more attractive incentive to employees and businesses.
“As businesses navigate how to manage hybrid work environments, having the ability to support new employee behaviours via flexible, turnkey solutions is a top priority.
“As we look to the future, many organisations now envision a hybrid work model that combines three spaces: home, office and a third space such as a WeWork.
Mr Tol noted that employers are seeking environments where employees can reunite safely yet have a space that encourages collaboration and innovation.
“We’re seeing increased demand from enterprise companies who are recognising the benefits of a flexible workplace including shorter lease commitments, scalable space, and the option to de-densify a central headquarters.”
Right now Mr Tol believes the greatest challenge facing the flexible space industry is preempting employees demand for a “third space”.
While flexible office space is seen as an attractive option for workers and companies frustrated by both the “bedroom-as-boardroom life” and traditional offices, organisations are now actively redesigning their offices to facilitate the expectations of workers post-lockdown.
“Workers will seek better health and wellness programs, be offered access to training, and value diversity and inclusion programs that attract them to join or stay with an employer.
“Co-working operators must continue to evolve to create innovative, safe and welcoming environments for people, beyond being just a place to work.”
In terms of opportunities for WeWork, Mr Tol said the pandemic has accelerated a focus on businesses leveraging technology to enhance access to office real estate. The team has begun innovating, creating new products that enhance greater worker flexibility.
“At the end of the day, it’s about how technology can further enable and empower our core business of flexible office space.”
“It’s more important than ever to listen to your employees and consider the range of options available.
“While many companies are not yet ready to make long term commitments on their future workspace needs, they may be trying to decentralise, maintain culture, attract or retain talent.
“Leaning into short-term, flexible office space and increasing access to space through technology is allowing us to reimagine what flexibility – of time, space and location – really means even beyond what we see today.”
Companies need to better meet employee expectations
Given Sydney and Melbourne’s prolonged lockdowns, Mr Tol added that Australians are enthusiastic about returning to the office, even if just for a few days a week. Despite these flexible working arrangements, he believes the office still has a major role to play.
“So companies are needing support to develop new workplace strategies to meet increasingly specified employee expectations,” he said.
“While the way we work has changed, the most attractive workspaces will be places custom-built for experience-based interaction and meaningful connection.”