Updated October 2020
1962 – The OmniOffices Group, Inc. (OmniOffices) was created, a privately held executive suites company and an early pioneer of the industry. OmniOffices was later acquired by real estate investment trust CarrAmerica in 1997, and in 1998 the two companies further expanded by acquiring HQ Business Centers. In 1999 the joint company became known as HQ Global Workplaces. HQ (and its predecessors) was eventually acquired by Regus (now IWG plc) in 2004.
1966 – On 1st August 1 1966, Paul Fegen launched a furnished law suite for attorneys. ‘Fegen Suites‘ effectively laid the foundations of the serviced office model by leasing office space and fitting it with furniture, reception services, telephony, and conference rooms. Fegen Suites expanded and was incorporated as Attorneys Office Management, Inc. (AOMI) on 1st July 1970 and began providing virtual office services to law firms in 1973 (known as an ‘off-site tenant program’ at the time). Following the devastating recession of 1980-82, AOMI was restructured and later sold, although the Fegen name was retained. On 1st April 1990, Vince Otte acquired the company and changed the name to Barrister Executive Suites, which today has 30 business center locations throughout Southern California.
1978 – Servcorp – Alf Moufarrige founded Servcorp at the MLC Centre in Sydney, Australia. Initially leasing one-quarter of a floor, Mr. Moufarrige eventually grew the business centre to 16 offices, known as ‘multi-tenanted office accommodation’. In 2020 Servcorp USA closed 12 locations, more than half of its US portfolio. Today, Servcorp operates in more than 160 locations across the globe.
1979 – OTSS (Office, Telecommunications & Secretarial Services) was founded in Northampton, England, by the Fuchs family. It was later re-named City Executive Centres Ltd. and grew to 13 offices nationwide before it was bought by MWB Business Exchange in 2005. Part of the original family business was retained and in 2009, a new company was formed – Office Space in Town – by brother and sister Giles and Niki Fuchs, who continue to run the business today.
1980 – Richard Nissen founded Business Space Ltd at 35 Piccadilly in London in 1980, and later pioneered the digital exchange telecommunications system which launched the virtual office concept in the UK. Mr. Nissen registered the trademark name in 1992 when the Virtual Office Group was established at 211-212 Piccadilly. After a period of 25 years, Mr. Nissen relocated his serviced and virtual office business to its current address at 180 Piccadilly. The business is still going strong today.
> 1980-1982 – The early 1980s recession led to high levels of unemployment and bankruptcies. Businesses became acutely aware of the need to manage cash flow and reduce long-term overheads – including office leases – which is believed by some to have helped serviced offices gain a stronger foothold in the aftermath of the recession.
1980s – During the 1980s, office technologies including word processors, personal computers, voicemail and fax machines became widely adopted. They began to eliminate some of the staffing roles required by businesses, and at the same time some of these services were offered by early business centers – negating the need to hire full-time staff for secretarial purposes.
1984/1985 – John Gill of Raines Business Centre and Philip Parris of Harvard Offices opened some of the earliest business centres in the UK.
1985 – Multiburo Business Centers was launched by François Pasquet. Today, it is managed by his brother Antoine Pasquet (CEO) and spans more than 40 locations across France, Belgium and Switzerland – making it the largest privately held business center operator in continental Europe.
1987 – Regus.com states it was founded by Mark Dixon in 1989, but Allwork.Space understands the company was actually founded in 1987 by Swedish company Reinhold. It later merged with Mark Dixon’s Crosslink company in 1989 to become Regus, the world’s largest business center operator. Today Regus, officially known as IWG plc is traded on the London Stock Exchange (IWG) and operates over 3,000 locations in 120 countries.
1989 – Metro Offices was launched by Kathleen Buchanan, and today operates 9 business centers in Washington, DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland. Buchanan started her workspace career with World Office Services in 1979, and later worked at COMCOR from 1983-88 before leaving to set up Metro Offices in 1989.
1991 – Alliance Business Centers (ABCN) was formed by Steve Tannenbaum, David Beale and Frank Cottle (Chairman). Today, Alliance is the largest flexible workspace network in the world with more than 600 business center and coworking locations.
1993 – Citibase was founded by David Joseph and Ian Read, currently operating over 42 business centres in England and Scotland. In 2018 Citibase was acquired by Newable, a provider of finance and business services; Citibase continues to trade under its own name. Also in 1993, Search Office Space (SOS) was established as the UK’s first serviced office search consultancy. Search Office Space rebranded to Office Freedom in 2018.
1994 – IZA Business Centers opened their first location at Torre Gia in Monterrey, Mexico, and today operates over 30 business centers in Mexico’s largest cities. Also this year, The Executive Centre was founded, and currently operates over 135 serviced office locations across the APAC region. In the same year, David Saul, Simon Rusk, Bernard Klug and Colin Gershinson founded BE Offices (formerly known as Business Environment) in the UK.
1995 – C-base, founded in Berlin, was one of the first hackerspaces in the world – an early form of coworking. That same year, Ralph Gregory founded Intelligent Office, a franchise with over 60 locations across the U.S. and Canada.
1996 – John Arenas founded Stratis Business Centers (formerly Community Business Centers), later acquired by Regus in 2001. Arenas went on to launch Serendipity Labs in 2011, a flexible workspace franchise with 40+ locations across the U.S.
1999 – HQ Business Centers and Omni Offices merged to become HQ Global Workplaces. It was later acquired by Regus in 2004 at a time when HQ had more than 300 business centers in the US and worldwide. That same year, Bernard De Koven launched the word “coworking” as a way to identify collaborative work, and 42 West 24 popped-up in New York City.
> 2000-2002: Dot-com crash, which led to consolidations, exits, and bankruptcies in the serviced office industry.
2000 – Flexible workspace brand, BizSpace, launched in the UK and currently operates more than 100 business centres offering a mix of office space, self-storage, industrial units and workshops. In 2015 BizSpace was acquired by Värde Partners, and continues to trade under its own name.
2001 – Stratis was acquired by Regus. Stratis had 12 centers with 3 under development for a $10 million deal.
2002 – Premier Workspaces (formerly Premier Business Centers) was founded in Irvine, California. Under CEO Jeff Reinstein, the company has grown from 9 locations to over 90 centers across 57 cities, and is the largest privately-held provider of executive suites in the United States.
2003 – Peter Kershaw, original founder of HQ Global Workplaces, bought back the European operations of HQ, which became known as Executive Offices Group (EOG), a high-end serviced office operator in London. In 2005, EOG was sold to Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund. In 2013, when EOG operated 28 serviced office locations in London, it was bought by Queensgate Investments and rebranded in 2014 to become London Executive Offices (LEO). In 2018, LEO was sold to Celvam Management with 38 buildings, and rebranded again to become The Argyll Club.
2003 was also the year that Office Evolution, a franchising workspace model, was founded by Mark Hemmeter. Office Evolution currently operates 70+ locations across the US.
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> 2004 – Around this time, there was accelerating adoption of personal computers, Internet usage, storage technology and data access speeds, which began to open new opportunities and greater acceptance of virtual and flexible working.
2005 – The official first “coworking space” opened in San Francisco by Brad Neuberg. That same year, the first Impact Hub coworking space launched in London. Today there are over 100 Impact Hubs across 50+ countries with more than 16,000 members.
> 2007/2008 onwards – The mobile revolution. Consumers and entrepreneurs used Wi-Fi enabled handheld devices at home, at work and on the go. It enabled business people to work seamlessly from virtually anywhere, and radically changed the business landscape. Around this time, coworking began to expand and the term “coworking” was seen as a trend on Google’s database in 2007 for the first time.
> 2007-09: Economic crisis and global recession. The credit crunch and ensuing financial crisis left a legacy of heightened cost efficiency measures. Arguably, many parts of the serviced office industry benefited from new-found business requirements for shorter office leases and greater flexibility. Yet business centers and coworking spaces weren’t immune to the recession, which left many with high vacancies and their own long-term lease deals to contend with.
2010 – WeWork
Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey founded WeWork, a shared workspace company, which currently has 800+ locations around the world.
2011 – Kong Wan Sing founded JustCo in Singapore. By the end of 2019, JustCo had grown to become one of the largest operators in the Asia Pacific region with over 40 locations.
2013 – In London, AIM-listed Serviced Office Group acquired Avanta Managed Offices, resulting in 37 properties as part of ‘Avanta Serviced Office Group’. In the same year John Arenas launched Serendipity Labs, a coworking franchise model, and Industrious was launched by Jamie Hodari and Justin Stewart. In 2015, Avanta Serviced Office Group was acquired by Regus (now IWG plc).
2014 – Dan Zakai and Yotam Alroy launched the coworking brand Mindspace in Tel Aviv, Israel. Mindspace currently operates 30 locations across multiple countries.
2015 – Regus made a significant move in the coworking sector by acquiring Spaces, a workspace operator founded in The Netherlands that’s now expanding across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. 2015 also saw the launch of Chinese coworking brand UrWork.
2015 also saw the launch of Knotel in New York, and Chinese coworking brand UrWork, which later rebranded to Ucommune after WeWork sued the Chinese company for trademark infringement
2016 – the UK votes to exit the European Union (‘Brexit‘) in a move that could significantly shake up the country’s flexible workspace market.
2017 – i2 Office took over Landmark Offices, later re-branding to Landmark in 2018, and IWG (Regus) acquired Basepoint. Chinese coworking brand Ucommune (formerly UrWork) merged with NewSpace and later partnered with Serendipity Labs to take on the global market. Also in 2017, the commercial property industry broke ground in flexible workspace: Savills launched Workthere, Blackstone bought a majority stake in The Office Group, and British Land set up Storey.
2018 – After months of takeover talks with three private equity firms, IWG walked away from a potential sale claiming that “none of the interested parties is currently capable of delivering an executable transaction at a recommendable price.” In 2018, Workbar became the first coworking space to achieve the WELL Building Standard, demonstrating the importance of wellness at work.
2019 – The year WeWork’s dream imploded. Nine years of aggressive growth and billions of dollars of investment by SoftBank led to a highly inflated valuation of $47 billion in 2019, which paved the way for the company to change its name to The We Company and file for an IPO. However, after documents were published laying bare the company’s rocky credentials and Neumann’s extravagant spending, it later postponed the IPO indefinitely as investor confidence plummeted, wiping billions off the company’s valuation. Co-founder Adam Neumann stepped down as CEO and SoftBank bailed out the struggling company. Today, The We Company continues to trade, amid ongoing lawsuits, staff redundancies and uncertainty over its future.
Also in 2019, Ucommune revealed its intention to file for an IPO in 2020 — but skeptics were quick to compare it unfavourably with The We Company’s (WeWork’s) failed attempt to go public. Central Working, which had 11 sites across the UK, collapsed into administration, as did The Clubhouse in London; the latter was swiftly bought by IWG plc. At the end of the year, on December 31, 2019, a mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan, China, was identified as a novel coronavirus, which would go on to cause an unprecedented global health crisis in 2020.
2020 – The year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus caused lockdowns, travel restrictions, closed borders, physical distancing, and as of July 2020, over 610,000 deaths. Many flexible workspaces temporarily closed while others stayed open for essential businesses, but all suffered a dramatic drop in business as workers stayed at home. Despite the short-term impact, the long-term future for flexible space looks positive. Many people are missing the social interaction of their workplace, and companies are eager to move away from long-term leases and centralized offices in favor of greater flexibility and team-focused hubs in regional locations. Many trends that were already driving demand to the flexible office sector are accelerating, and occupiers are now prioritising wellness, remote work and flexibility in their future of work strategies.