TechView: According to Digital Infrastructure Provider essensys, Flexible Workspaces Hold Opportunity Post-COVID-19

essensys, San Francisco, Seattle, Amazon, HIPPA, Knotel, CBRE, Instant Office, Colliers International
Instant Offices research found that secure digital infrastructure can help resolve common operational challenges of delivering flexible real estate solutions. Courtesy of essensys.

By Meghan Hall

Jeremy Bernard, Courtesy of essensys

While many flexible workspaces are struggling as the pandemic wears on, one long-time player in the industry sees the future as bright. essensys, a firm that focuses on flexible workplace software, believes that such environments are the future and is innovating its enterprise-grade platform to meet the needs of businesses as they return to the office. The Registry spoke with essensys’ Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Bernard, on how technology can help to enable the success of flexible work spaces.

Please tell The Registry a little bit about essensys, which operates as a technology platform for the flex space industry. Where did the idea to establish a platform like essensys arise?

essensys was founded in 2006 with the mission to use technology to transform the occupier experience in flexible workspaces. The flexible office model presents unique operational challenges for both landlords and flexible workspace providers. essensys delivers self-service applications, software automation, and digital infrastructure – in fact, all the tech you need to operate a flexible workspace, while also ensuring that occupiers get an exceptional work experience. 

It’s clear that flexibility is a major opportunity as we return to the office after COVID-19. But it must respond to occupiers’ changing needs. With historically high vacancy rates, and companies of all sizes reevaluating their real estate strategies, landlords must adapt to survive. 

 From your perspective, what does it mean to successfully deliver and deploy enterprise-level physical and digital security? Why are these aspects particularly important to flex spaces?

There are many reasons why secure digital infrastructure is so important for flexible workspaces. For one, enterprise occupiers are putting security first. The biggest challenge for workspace providers is how to give potential customers the confidence to sign an agreement. What’s more, designing and delivering enterprise-level physical and digital security can be expensive and time-consuming. You can’t just flip a switch and upgrade the WiFi from the coffee shop standard, or buy servers and networking equipment from Staples and make it run straight out of the box. It takes 80 to 100 engineers to monitor and manage the networks for small to large enterprises. ‘Build your own’ is a risky strategy. Valuable tenants like Amazon would never consider occupying space without a secure private network underpinning everything.

In 2021, the trend among big tech companies returning to the office is for large, fit-for-purpose spaces that occupy an entire floor, with a flexible component for shorter leases and the ability to scale up and down as necessary. This keeps people productive and motivated, collaborating both in-person and remotely. But activating this kind of hybrid working model along with secure, enterprise-ready services – and at scale – presents many challenges. And a managed services approach simply does not work. 

There are other aspects of tech security that workspace providers overlook, such as: 

Compliance: Companies of all sizes can be subject to different regulatory and governance requirements. For example, PCI-DSS for companies that handle payments, HIPPA for companies that handle personal medical data, and the stringent requirements that financial or fintech firms will have. Many may also request proof of generic security certifications such as ISO 27001 and SOC2.

Not all risks are visible: Workspace providers are responsible for ensuring their technology infrastructure is safe from possible security breaches and that account numbers and other sensitive client data are safely stored. Occupiers may hold them liable for compliance, disclosures, and privacy requirements. It’s critical to know how and where data is stored, who has access to manage it, and what security protocols are in place for it. Integrating systems means you reduce data touchpoints and make it easier to identify malicious users on the network.

Continual testing of physical, digital, network security, and cloud infrastructure is essential to ensure that everything is secured and working all the time.

Can you explain how essensys’ software, private network, and cloud infrastructure operate? 

Our platform is enterprise-grade and offers security, resilience, and connectivity with software layers built on top of the digital infrastructure. The combination of hardware and software unlocks on-demand services, without the need for a large in-house IT team or complex outsourcing agreements. 

Our private cloud infrastructure is designed for multi-site flexible workspace providers and landlords. As their operation scales, we continue to deliver a consistent, high-quality in-building experience for occupiers and greater control and visibility for providers. We’ve been doing it for over 16 years and we believe we truly understand what our customers need.

What is your favorite feature of essensys? Why?

The combination of self-service, automation, and secure cloud infrastructure. The best thing is that it’s built to respond to the unique challenges of the flexible workspace industry and to deliver what occupiers need as they need it. You can create and deliver flexible real estate solutions in a matter of seconds, not days or months. It has never been so important to manage and control the entire workspace user experience. And our technology is making that possible.

What are some of the benefits—for both landlords and flex users—to utilizing a platform such as essensys? 

Real estate is changing. Occupiers are demanding more flexibility than ever before – and workspace providers must respond. essensys technology enables them to offer unique in-building experiences and secure, enterprise-ready technology services. We’re delivering all the technology landlords need to transform every part of the tenant experience while future-proofing their assets.

essensys was started initially in 2006. Since then, both the CRE industry and technology have changed rapidly. What are some of the most significant changes you have noted, and how are they essential to essensys? 

The most significant change we’ve observed is that workspace users now have a real choice – and employers are beginning to listen. The key to recruiting and retaining top talent is to offer workspace options that appeal to a diverse and distributed workforce. Once it is deemed safe, younger workers in urban areas may be eager to return to the city to connect with their teams and enjoy after-work social time. Other workers with children or family responsibilities may prefer suburban locations closer to home to avoid a long commute. Employers offering a hub and spoke model have the ability to address these diverse groups. Work is about far more than completing tasks. The workplace is now a social endeavor that underpins the culture of an organization. 

At essensys, we understand that real estate is fundamentally changing and that the flexibility required can be effectively delivered with the right technology. 

How do you think the flex space industry will evolve over the next couple of years, given the rise of work from home and telecommuting strategies?

The data confirms that the future of work is flexible:

  • A recent tenant survey from CBRE indicates that 86 percent of respondents see flexible office space as a critical component of their future real estate strategies. (Even before the pandemic, experts predicted that by 2030, 30 percent of commercial office space will be flex space.)
  • According to a recent Instant Office report, only about one percent of current commercial real estate is flex space.
  • Flexible workspaces will power the pivot to hybrid. A November 2020 report from Colliers International confirms that inventory for flexible workspaces has increased by 36.5 percent in just 18 months.

Although the overall footprint of commercial office space may not expand soon, the proportion that is flex space will grow. Smart buildings will evolve, and individual workspace will become larger as offices de-densify. Workspace operators need to deliver more responsive, flexible solutions and make it easy for people to collaborate both in-person and remotely. 

essensys’ growth comes at a time when major flex operators, such as Knotel, have declared bankruptcy. What are essensys’ plans to remain competitive and viable until the flex market recovers?

For companies of all sizes flexible real estate is a viable solution to bring people back to the office. The stats above demonstrate that flexibility is here to stay. Knotel is a highly respected leader in flexible space that was hit hard by the pandemic [1] . But their story isn’t indicative of all flex-space operators. Industrious is a prime example of an operator that has capitalized on the market opportunity and expanded during a very difficult time.

essensys has been growing steadily for over 16 years. Our platform is purpose-built for flexibility. We are very well positioned to service the demand we’re seeing in the market.

As secure digital infrastructure becomes increasingly important, and as more software-as-a-service platforms come to market, what are essensys’ strategies to remain competitive in the proptech marketplace?

We are the global leaders in flexible workspace technology. We have over 16 years of proven experience in this sector, and we understand the unique operational challenges and occupier trends better than anyone. Innovation and digital transformation are at the heart of our platform. Everything we do, every line of code we write, is designed to push the industry forward – today and into the future. Our platform powers over 20 million square feet of space managed by the world’s largest landlords and flexible workspace operators. They turn to essensys because they trust us.  

Is there anything else you would like to add, or anything that we should be asking?

The office is an essential pillar for cultivating what I call the three Cs: culture, collaboration, and cooler talk. Designing the next generation of flexible real estate solutions is about putting people and their needs at its core. Space providers that can deliver digitally enabled and mobile-first in-building experiences and secure, enterprise-ready technology and services will win. 

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