That was the key question at the essensys conference this month, and it was certainly a valid one.
At the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel in London, industry delegates were given valuable insights into the latest technology and how the ‘power of the network’ can influence business opportunities. As essensys’ frontmen Mark Furness (CEO), Michael Guest (VP Sales) and Bryn Sadler (Chief Technical Officer) demonstrated, technology is at the very heart of future growth within the industry, and it comes in many different forms.
On a systems level, essensys has invested heavily in its plug-and-play services such as JEFF, creating a more user-friendly, robust and flexible tool to streamline business centre management. On a wider level, the team referred to how collaborative consumption, mobile communication and the rise of the end user can – and will – have a significant impact on the business centre industry; and how this could also be the catalyst towards future growth.
Among a stellar line-up of speakers that included cycling legend Chris Boardman MBE and the NetworKING himself, Charles Ruffolo, entrepreneur and technology correspondent Benjamin Cohen delivered his view on the future of the internet. He suggested that while social media will remain a key part of marketing, the immediate future lies in mobile devices, with the help of collaborative working tools such as Teambox. Of course this could have a significant impact on the business centre industry. Mobile devices, apps and wireless technology are already changing the way we live and work, and mobile workers are demanding ever more flexibility to suit their work-on-the-go lifestyle.
Many UK centres are responding by providing touchdown and co-working spaces, such as The Hot Office and Bristol’s Colston Office Centre, while individual co-working communities are springing up all over the globe. But is the business centre industry reacting fast enough?
Based on conversations with delegates at the conference, it seems many business centre operators are still skeptical. But Jennifer Brooke from the BCA believes that the business centre industry is responding, and that the wider UK market is also fast developing – pointing to TechCity in London as one prime example.
Certainly if Cohen’s predictions come to fruition, the office sharing community could develop at a rate of knots. He pointed to the examples of ordinary people sharing their possessions – cars, parking spaces, even homes – and how this ‘sharing’ ethos is growing with the help of social networks and collaborative technology.
Office sharing is part of this movement, and as Justin Harley of RJ Metis explained, it’s all down to ‘Generation Y’. During his session, Harley shared some impressive figures on co-working. It is growing at a rate of 100% per year with big players such as Liquid Space, DayOffice Card and NearDesk energising the industry and reaching those highly mobile GenY workers. These individuals are collectively helping to reduce square footage and simultaneously increase head count in offices, and are “changing the face of the world.” Harley stressed the need for providers to utilise technology to find more intelligent ways to sell their space, with their new SpaceDadi service one such example.
For those attendees I spoke to, co-working was still low on the priority list. But then, many reported good business and high occupancy figures from their serviced offices. Tony Williams of Regency Offices reported high occupancy and hinted at expansion plans in the near future. United Business Centres (Midlands) Ltd (UBC) has recently launched a new site in Brentford, taking over from former operator, Regus. And Leeds-based Prospect Business Centres is opening its first centre in London next year.
As businesses demand ever more flexibility from their workspace, the serviced office industry continues to grow. And it’s not just business centres that are facing rapid change. For instance, as a service supplier to the flexible office industry, essensys has doubled in size within a year and has just expanded its team too.
It shows that technology in its many forms is certainly at the heart of future growth and development for the business centre industry. As Justin Harley emphasised, the world is changing at great pace and this change is happening now. With that in mind, where could the industry be within just a few years’ time?