The radical large companies forging ahead with flexspace

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Vive la révolution! In France, corporate culture is leading the charge for a new way of working


Among some members of the business community, the benefits of coworking spaces are well known. From a company point of view, being able to account for every single desk you use is a sure-fire way to improve efficiency, and removing all the hassle that comes with cleaning and maintaining a fixed-lease office certainly helps too. From an employee point of view, the flexible model is an empowering way to work that leads to happier people and increased productivity – which takes us full circle. But can this new way of working also apply to large companies?

In France, at least, the evidence says yes. As we adapt to the notion of the digital workplace, a number of the country’s biggest companies are forging ahead with radical ideas of what it means to be a large conglomerate in the 21st century. In Fontenay-sous-Bois, an area just east of Paris, the banking giant Société Générale has used coworking space to create a pioneering tech hub for 9,000 employees. Les Dunes, as it’s known, is a 126,000sq m construction comprising workspace, a restaurant, a fitness room and games room – all made in collaboration with the people who actually work there.

Courtesy of the AXA Tower in the Paris business hub La Défense, insurance firm AXA France is getting in on the act too. Here, 2,000 employees are at the vanguard of the shift from static desk-spaced company to activity-based organisation – where you sit depends on what you do on any given day. With 25% of the workforce already classed as teleworkers, it makes sense to rethink what physical space is for, and how it is actually used.

BNP Paribas is another major French bank that has made big changes in recent years. Going from 350 offices to 15, swapping desktop computers for laptops, and issuing 2,500 smartphones to replace landlines were just some of the logistical challenges involved. But these measures also freed up 1,100 seats for other uses, including meeting rooms and storage facilities. Communications firm Bouygues Télécom is another example of a large company reclaiming square footage and introducing more dynamic shared areas by adopting flexspace (in Paris, unused office space was recorded as somewhere between 50 and 60%).

These are big firms with big budgets – and there are big consequences to consider if the move to flexspace is not done properly. There’s no question that breaking down the silos created by rigid departments encourages creativity and new ideas to flourish, yet it’s important to remember that cross-pollination only happens when everyone is included. And that means paying attention to human nature and creating spaces that foster a sense of community. Perhaps it’s not so radical after all.


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