In February 2017, Savills, one of the world’s largest real estate firms, launched a new flexible office brokerage service called Workthere.
As the first major real estate agent to launch a standalone brand exclusive to flexible workspace, Savills set a precedent. It’s a market that Savills has never fully serviced in its 160+ year history, and the launch of Workthere marked a step-change in the way traditional real estate companies approach flexible space.
Six months after its initial launch, Allwork spoke with Cal Lee, founder of Workthere, to learn more about their mission and how the brand has fared.
“We’ve had a strong 6 months, which has been much better than anticipated,” said Cal. “We’ve already exceeded our initial targets and in May we expanded outside of the UK for the first time.”
The brand’s phenomenal growth in just a few short months won’t come as a surprise to the UK’s established flexible workspace market, and it’s business as usual for Cal, too.
“The sector is continuing to grow and we came in at the right time,” he added.
Cal officially began developing Workthere in July 2016, but the idea sparked long before that.
Having studied Real Estate at university, Cal started his career at Savills through a graduate scheme in 2011. Since then, he has been privy to the inner workings of a 162-year-old commercial real estate company. That gave him the opportunity to observe key trends within the office sector — including growth in demand for flexible workspace and the consequent growth of its suppliers.
“Savills has always advised on large lease deals, but we began to see more transactions for smaller, short term requirements. Savills doesn’t generally handle these types of deals so we saw an opportunity to service that side of the industry.
“The problem was that these requirements take a lot of time and resources resulting in relatively small deals. We started to research how we could use technology to make the process more efficient.”
Cal created a business plan in late 2014 and worked on the concept for more than a year, eventually gaining approval and funding from the Savills board in April 2016. He left his previous role at Savills in July 2016 to focus on Workthere full-time, working alongside a team to develop a website with efficient search functionality.
“It has been in the works for a long time,” he added, explaining that Workthere now has “over 1,000 spaces” on its digital platform including well-known operators such as The Office Group, Regus, Servcorp, WeWork, London Executive Offices and Citibase.
Although Workthere is independent and acts with the flexibility of a standalone brand, it certainly benefits from its affiliation with a real estate company of considerable reputation.
“Workthere is supercharged by Savills,” says Cal. “Ultimately, our vision is to make it as quick and easy as possible for an occupier to find flexible space.”
Indeed, the plan appears to be working. After just 3 months, Workthere launched in Ireland (May 2017) to service the growing Dublin market, which is already home to well-known flexible office brands including Iconic Offices, Glandore, Pembroke Hall and Regus. WeWork is also set to make its Irish debut soon.
“We’ve always had the intention of creating a global service. By Q4 this year, we’re set to launch in 3 more European countries. By the end of this year, we will have doubled the size of the Workthere team.”
While the UK is Workthere’s main market — which Cal maintains “is the biggest and best market for flexible space in the world” — the team has bigger growth plans on the horizon, which includes launching in the US and Asia next year.
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With such workspace giants as Regus and WeWork already on its books, the brand has the ability to hit the market running — not to mention the added advantage of “local people on the ground” courtesy of Savills.
But Workthere isn’t just going after the industry’s traditional small business clientele.
“There’s an opportunity for a ‘middle space’,” explained Cal. “You’ve got serviced offices and coworking at one end, long leases at the other, and our clients want something in the middle.
“Our clients are thinking 1-2 years ahead, and their need for flexibility is absolutely paramount. They want a space that’s bespoke and carries their own branding, a space where they they can instil their own culture in their employees.”
Cal explains that Workthere is currently servicing three main types of client.
The first comprises startups and small businesses seeking a head office. “This can be anything from small startups to new well-funded businesses with 30-40 people, who are scaling and already thinking 1-2 years ahead.”
This is their main market and “has performed much better than expected”. The Workthere team aims to build relationships with this demographic as they grow, enabling the team to continue sourcing their requirements from small flexible spaces into larger, longer leases.
The next group are large firms seeking project space, which are typically sourced from Savills’s corporate clients. The final group are usually in “transition” and require new flexible office locations to facilitate expansion into new markets.
In addition to specialist brands like Workthere matching clients with flexible workspaces, Cal expects to see more commercial property landlords offering flexibility to attract a wider target market.
One partnership example is Blackstone buying a majority stake in The Office Group. On the flip side, British Land launched its own dedicated flexible brand, Storey, earlier this year.
“It’s a question of resource and expertise,” commented Cal.
In both cases, this trend suggests property landlords are keen to catch small firms earlier in their growth phase and accommodate them throughout their business lifecycle.
But space alone isn’t enough. This approach relies heavily on the provision of support and service, which is where traditional landlords stand to benefit from a partnership with established serviced office operators.
And it’s happening. As noted by Will Kinnear of GKRE, growing demand for flexible space is leading property companies and institutional landlords to re-think their letting strategies.
“Buildings that were once the exclusive home of large corporates — including ‘trophy buildings’ such as The Shard, The Gherkin, Tower 42 and the Lloyds Building — are now actively seeking out top flexible workspace operators as part of their tenant mix.”
With demand for flexible space continuing to accelerate — research released by Savills in August 2017 found that serviced office take up across the UK increased by 176% in H117 compared to the same period in 2016 — all the signs suggest that Workthere is set to continue its blistering pace of growth within the UK and across Europe.
The question we’re left with now, is who will attempt to follow in Workthere’s fast-track footsteps?