What Inning Are We In?

Adoption of flexible space can be categorized into different ‘innings’, and each one holds different opportunities.
  • At the Flexible Workplace Conference, industry researchers presented a window into corporate occupiers’ minds
  • Currently, adoption of flexible space by corporates has been minimal – yet it has a huge demand potential
  • There is a shift away from small space requirements as medium and large companies show interest in flexible space

The World Series may get underway tomorrow, but at the Flexible Workplace Conference this fall, industry researchers were answering the oft-asked question in CRE, “What Inning Are We In?”

Scott Homa, director of U.S. Office Research at JLL, gave an overview to NAIOP and GWA members on what macro and flexible space workplace trends his team is seeing, as well as presenting a window into the occupier’s mind.

Homa’s assessment: flexible space demand by freelancers and companies up to 10 employees (a breakeven point making flexible space an economically rational decision) is in the third or fourth inning.

Corporate occupiers, however, are in the top of the first. Flexible space has a huge demand potential, a tremendous level of interest, yet adoption has been minimal.

Currently less than 5% of the 4 billion square feet of office space in the U.S. is flexible, but by 2030 that number will rise to about 30%, Homa predicted.

Flexible space has been growing at 23% annually since 2010

Flexible space is growing at a much faster rate than the overall US tenant base, driving office demand. Since 2010, flexible space has been experiencing 23% annual growth compared to the 1% of the overall US tenant base.

Some of the macroeconomic factors driving the growth, according to Homa: equity markets that are at an all-time high; very, very strong job creation; high business confidence; and high consumer confidence.

Important industry trends are driving the rapid growth as well.

Average location size has grown very significantly since 2010, the year WeWork came on strong. WeWork’s average location size is now 75,000 square feet or more, with deals underway for full buildings of 250,000 square feet for a single tenant, Homa noted.

Office space has shifted from a commodity to a consumer product, full of amenities, programming and highly activated lobbies that provide experiences for occupiers.

Among the factors driving demand for flexible space by the corporate occupier are avoiding capital expenses (by far the largest), followed by navigating business uncertainty and serving a mobile workforce. Others include creating swing space, supporting market expansion and improving company culture and employee recruitment and retention.

However, while awareness of flexible space is high, actual adoption by large occupiers is very modest, at less than 5%. That number is expected to move slowly as typical Fortune 500 companies are very thoughtful and deliberate relative to real estate decision-making.

Requirements shift towards larger space

Michelle Bodick of the Instant Group echoed the sentiment that it was early in the ballgame.

She has seen a gradual upward shift in desk size requirements across the industry as demand moves away from freelancers looking for desks for up to two people, and toward SMEs requiring 25 or more desks.

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As the type of occupier of flexible space changes, so does the profile of the lease, noted Bodick, adding that they have seen a steady growth in the number of 18+ month terms as companies with larger teams look for more stability and less disruption while maintaining increased flexibility compared to traditional offerings.

To retain those customers will require some added options from the provider, Bodick advised. “If you put more customization into your space, allowing them to brand, maybe create a custom office or a small phone booth; those are the things that are going to differentiate your center so you’re able to keep these customers long term and even grow with them,” she said. “It’s effectively moving from a provider of outsourced product to offering workplace as a service.”

Customers are seeking amenity-rich flexible office space to serve employees working 45 to 50 hours a week whose boundaries between home and work continue to blur, she noted.

Amenities and facilities that create that community and give them good access to their network were perceived to have a high benefit, particularly by the millennial community, said Bodick.

Among the favorites: fast internet, 24-hour access, good collaborative spaces, customization of layout and furniture, relaxation areas, outdoor space, gyms with showers, and shops.

What will those next few innings look like?

The significant opportunities are the middle, companies with 10 to 50 to 100 people, according to Bodick.

Bodick predicts a model will emerge where landlords share risk and reward in lease structure and deliver workspace as a service. Additionally, she sees:

  • Nichification of product. Fintech, child care, all-women’s centers, biotech, and healthcare are examples. “We’re going to continue to see the product differentiate because choice is key.”
  • Consolidation of providers. The weak will fail. “If we do hit an economic downturn, the ones that are comfortable businesses with the right amount of risk will maintain and there will be opportunity for acquisitions and consolidation of companies.”
  • Globalization of the operator market. “We’re already starting to see companies from other markets move in. Large providers that have been very successful outside of the US are going to enter the US market in the next 12-18 months.”
  • Consolidation of the supply chain. “It’s now possible to simplify the process of setting up an office to a couple of invoices versus 40 across the supply chain.”
  • Landlords developing their own offer, particularly for requirements of 20-100 desks. “Landlords are looking at getting into the mix and thinking about what they’re going to do. Can they deliver this or not? Do they partner? Or outsource?”
  • Enabling digital platforms. Listing sites like Instant and others will continue to evolve in this digital age. “Are we moving to Trip Advisors with open APIs? Are we cutting the broker out? There will be an evolution of this kind of digital buying.”

Batter up!
The next GWA Flexible Workplace Conference takes place in Washington, DC September 18-20.