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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