Rise of the Serviced Office Sector

As part of Metropolis’ detailed monitoring of the London office market, it has emerged that the serviced or ‘co-working’ office sector is now the third largest business type taking office space in the capital. Some 2m sq ft was let to serviced office operators in 2017 and over 2.4m sq ft was let to the sector in 2018. There are now over a dozen serviced operators looking for additional sites in London, with more requirements being launched each month. The sector has expanded across Central London and the UK regions with business models from both operators and landlords adapting to changing customer demands.

Over recent years, we there has been a substantial growth in the flexible office market. Providers such as IWG (whose brands include Regus and Spaces) and new entrants from the US including WeWork, now dominate the market. Reports by analysts such as Cushman & Wakefield point to a greater willingness amongst major corporate occupiers to source quite significant amounts of office accommodation from the serviced sector and take advantage of their flexible terms.

Central London has one of the largest and most mature flexible workplace markets and over the last five years has cemented its global reputation for new office occupancy models . Cushman & Wakefield estimates that flexible workplace operators currently occupy around 10.7 million sq ft of space across Central London. This equates to around 4% of the Central London office stock.

In 2012, Clerkenwell, Southbank and Covent Garden were the areas that had the highest proportion of flexible workplace sector but Metropolis lettings data indicates that now Aldgate, City fringe, Shoreditch and Paddington have the highest concentration. The average serviced office centre is estimated at 22,300 sq ft up from 15,000 sq ft in 2016., with 30 centres in excess of 50,000 sq ft in Central London, many operated by WeWork.

Agents report that many larger companies are examining their business models in a bid to encourage creativity by providing a more unstructured and less centrally controlled environment than their traditional business. Recent market activity has included IWG focusing on expanding its Spaces brand while BE group has purchased Headspace to enable dramatic future growth. WeWork have said that it could offer an entire building to a single tenant and manage the custom build-out of the space.  BE Offices provide bespoke space via their BeSpoke division, which is aimed at corporate occupiers.

A BCA report revealed that increasing numbers of operators are seeking densities of 50 sq ft per desk across the UK. WeWork’s new centres are now being planned at 35-45 sq ft per desk Knotel, the newest entrant from the US is planning a similar density.

However some operators are finding difficulty in securing space, with some operators searching in the West End frustrated by a lack of stock. The larger operators will need to seek prelets or purchase buildings, but these are not options for smaller players. Most operators aim to achieve 85% occupancy within 12 months after fit out, which will generate a high level of sales activity, not least for removal companies.

To sum up, the new breed of flexible operator is challenging the traditional business model and the sector is going to remain an important segment of the real estate industry in the future. Take-up by the sector has increased year on year, with 2018 the most active year for the sector, with WeWork responsible for more than half of take up in 2017-18. WeWork and Spaces are also expanding into Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh and plenty of evidence that other operators are following.

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What Office Occupiers Want

Metropolis researchers often hear of some unusual requests from office occupiers looking for the next base, which can trigger some sales opportunities for suppliers, so this week’s blog looks at some of the latest trends in office design.

A recent report by Lambert Smith Hampton examined some of the features of occupier demand. Slides, swings, ball ponds or a spot of mini golf were once the height of coolness. Revered and ridiculed in equal measure, the trend towards putting the fun factor into the office on the wish-list of technology and media start-ups. As with all fads, attitudes change and many have realised that the workforce and management need something different. That difference is functionality. The expectations that the workforce has on the workplace have largely been a result of technology, demographic and employment changes. It is these factors that have and will continue to evolve the thinking and implementation of design. The emphasis is now more on productivity and sustainability, increasingly being cost effective.

Technology has increasingly dictated change over the past decade. New technologies have tended to dispense with data rooms, to fixed desk PCs, to landline phones. The fast pace of technological change has
made it difficult to future proof office design. Technology is making the tools we use more portable, more personal and increasingly smaller, space can be therefore be devoted to more productive, collaborative and engaging activities rather than static desk spaces.

Designing a space that is functional and productive for the entire workforce is a difficult task, when it is required to retain the company culture and enhance the future one. Functional and productive design includes areas for team-work, quiet spaces, meeting rooms and private offices are all elements that need to be given some thought. If specific features are wanted, they must hold meaning and have purpose.. A
games room or even a fully functioning kitchen can help to create a shared space for everyone to come together.

The recent locational flexibility of occupiers has been underlined by recent occupier decisions. Media groups such as McCann relocating to the City of London, WPP to the Southbank or pharmaceutical Novartis’ move to White City, illustrate that old certainties about search areas are breaking down. Traditional certainties of lawyers in Midtown, hedge funds in Mayfair and government departments in Victoria are breaking down. For decades business sectors have been wedded to certain postcodes, submarkets and even streets. Whilst this has been slowly changing over recent years, the current pace is expected to step up a notch, as tenants are now more open-minded about their next workplace than ever before.

The main driver of change is the growth of technology that creates a truly connected workforce. The ability for people to work anywhere, at any time, has caused a re-imagination of the office and the role it plays. This technology revolution has changed people’s expectations of working practices, meaning the workplace is having to adapt. As a result, tenants are becoming ever more open to the type of space that they will operate from. Secondly, the workforce itself has changed. A wide range of ages in the office means a more complex and thoughtful approach to providing the right kind
of working environment.

In addition, the boundaries of London’s office market have grown over the past 25 years as new development has rippled westwards to Paddington, eastwards to Canary Wharf, north and south with King’s Cross and Southbank respectively. 2019 will see those boundaries push further out as regeneration, and improving transport links crystallise. Stratford and the Olympic Park is gaining leasing momentum. So too is White City to the west.

Some analysts think that offices will evolve to become more like coworking, with occupier space becomes about much more than just a building or a physical space to go and work in, it’s also an international supportive community.