Q&A: JLL’s Melissa Ansley on Flex Space Terms, Trends, and How Tech is Changing the Game

Coffee With: Melissa Ansley, JLL Flex Occupier Solutions Lead in the Americas

We know flex space is changing fast. For those who’ve been in the industry for a decade or more, like Melissa Ansley at JLL, there has never been a more exciting time.

Before Ansley came aboard as JLL’s Flex Occupier Solutions Lead in the Americas, she worked with corporate accounts and then enterprise accounts at IWG, formerly Regus, and then co-launched a consultancy, Workspace Concierge, helping occupiers and landlords get into flex space around the world. So far, her career in this niche has spanned 15 years, and nearly halfway through 2021, big change is afoot.

“Now, a lot of those conversations that we were having at the beginning of COVID are starting to turn into action,” she tells Upflex. “We’re really working with our occupiers to develop new strategies with really new and exciting products.”

At this point in the journey, Ansley says, interest in flex is accelerating faster than ever. We sat down with her for a (digital) coffee to talk industry terminology, trends, and how technology is changing the game this year.

Upflex: While you’ve been with JLL for a year and a half, you’ve been working in the flex space market for quite a bit longer than that. How did you get your start in flex space and, over the past 15 years, how have you seen it evolve?  

Melissa Ansley: It’s been an exciting journey in the flexible space sector. In the past, flex was something we talked about — but it wasn’t on everyone’s minds. Now everything has shifted: It’s integral to corporate real estate and workplace strategies around the globe. I’ve been lucky to see the flex sector evolve from its roots as serviced offices, to coworking, to short-term office suites, to its current role: as a key component to office re-entry strategies today and the hybrid workplace of tomorrow. 

Today, there are so many fantastic flexible space applications and operators that have listened to what occupiers’ demands are and evolved to meet those needs. We’re seeing that employees and employers alike are excited to go back to work, and they want to have some smaller heads-down space as well as the option to collaborate, engage with colleagues and be part of a community.

I’ll add that there used to be a thought that a flex space was perfect for the smaller office. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Having a flex space that accommodates 50 or 100 people is not uncommon today, and I think we’ll see more of that as we progress office re-entry programs this year. 

Upflex: How would you characterize the current market, as we’re making our way out of the pandemic? Are you seeing any major changes or emerging trends compared to this time last year?

Melissa Ansley: Occupiers are driving the flexible space market and its evolution. At the start of COVID, occupiers took the time to reflect, understand their needs, map out their future plans and make decisions to achieve their immediate goals, like cost savings and supporting workforce engagement. But now, they’re looking to the future: How do we make a long-term strategy? How do we maximize this newfound flexibility? And how do we make sure that we’re, again, meeting the needs of our workforce? I know from our brokerage community and from working with occupiers all over the world that there is a notable uptick in activity levels, heading towards where they were pre-COVID. Occupiers are starting to implement the CRE and workforce strategies they’ve been planning for the past year. I’ve also noticed that occupiers are more and more interested in tech platforms that offer employees more choice in where they work while providing CRE teams with the data they need to understand how their workforce is utilizing flex spaces to inform their portfolio decisions. Every occupier right now wants to understand what the hybrid workplace looks like to them, and they need meaningful data to make those decisions. 

Upflex: “Hyperflex” seems to be a bit of a buzzword in the office market right now. Is this terminology you’re using at JLL, and would you call it a trend or does it seem to have more staying power?

Melissa Ansley: I wouldn’t necessarily call hyperflex a trend. We use “hyper flexibility” or “enhanced mobility,” and it’s something that we’re starting to see more interest in from occupiers. For example, technology platforms and workspace on-demand enable enhanced mobility and support a more flexible workplace strategy and CRE portfolio. I don’t see those needs as a trend; I think they will be a key priority for the C-Suite well into the future. 

“Every occupier right now wants to understand
what the hybrid workplace looks like to them, and
they need meaningful data to make those decisions.” 

Upflex: As you help occupiers work through these new strategies, are there challenges that you see holding occupiers back from transitioning from traditional leases to flex? 

Melissa Ansley: A question I get from my occupier clients every day — including well before COVID — is how to create continuity of workplace experience and embed a company culture in third-party flexible spaces. The flexible space market and enterprise clients can partner to solve this need together. Flexible space operators can offer options to infuse the company’s brand into the company’s flex suite, while occupiers ensure their culture is embedded in their workforce well beyond the four walls of the office suite. With occupiers, we focus on defining their overarching goals, and building a strategy that supports those goals. And a big part of that strategy includes educating them on the various options available in the market and exactly how they can retain their company values, culture and workplace experience in all office environments — not just their HQ office. 

Upflex: What about factors that tip the scale and compel companies to take the leap to a new strategy? As you’re working with occupiers now, are you seeing any singular, driving factor shared among new adopters of flex or hybrid space?

Melissa Ansley: While footprint reduction and cost savings are the obvious drivers to adopt more flexible space programs, the top priority for most companies is attracting, retaining and engaging their workforce. After all, the number one expense for every company is their workforce. Real estate is a distant second. Occupiers are focused on giving their workforce what they need to be successful, productive and engaged — as well as comfortable returning to an office environment. This includes offering choice and flexibility in where and how they work, creating a hybrid workplace ecosystem and building a hybrid work model.

“While footprint reduction and cost savings are the
obvious drivers to adopt more flexible space programs,
the top priority for most companies is attracting, retaining and
engaging their workforce. After all, the number one expense for
every company is their workforce. Real estate is a distant second.”

Upflex: You’ve said it’s a pretty exciting time. What are some of the newest or most interesting things you’re dealing with day to day now?

Melissa Ansley: There’s a few things that are really exciting about this moment in time. Because occupiers are acutely focused on the hybrid workplace and their workforce engagement strategies, we’re able to offer more solutions and have more meaningful conversations with our clients than ever. There has never been a brighter spotlight on flexible space programs, hybrid workplace ecosystems and the future of the office. It’s discussed at every C-Suite roundtable, in the media and within every company. I hope it stays that way! Another exciting evolution is the rapidly changing flexible space landscape. Landlords are more involved in the flexible space market than ever before. There is so much choice in the market and so many different applications of flexible space today, so occupiers can implement a wide spectrum of solutions to meet both their enterprise and workforce needs. I can’t wait to see how the industry continues to evolve over the next five to 10 years.

“There has never been a brighter spotlight on
flexible space programs, hybrid workplace ecosystems
and the future of the office. It’s discussed at every C-Suite
roundtable, in the media and within every company.”

Upflex: Tell us about your workspace at the moment: Where do you like to work?

Melissa Ansley: My current workspace is your standard at-home setup created in the midst of COVID, but I do like to mix it up for different views. All I need from my workspace are just my computer, sunshine and a nice breeze. When I go back into the office, I’m excited to be part of a community and see people face-to-face and not over Zoom!