5 Potential Futures For The Flexible Workspace Industry

It’s generally positive news for coworking, as occupiers have responded to this style of working “in a way that will not be undone”.
  • Knight Frank lays out five potential paths the coworking segment of the U.S. office market could take over the next five years.
  • Although the industry is expected to continue on its growth path, it could take many different shapes and forms.
  • Even in the worst case scenario the report finds that coworking will continue to evolve, as occupiers have responded to this style of working “in a way that will not be undone”.

The recent Knight Frank report “The Future of Coworking and Flexible Office Space: Five Potential Paths” outlines five possible scenarios for the future of the industry.

2018 has marked a new era for flexible workspace. The larger CRE industry took notice – and action – of how flexible space has disrupted the way people consume and use space.

“Flexible spaces have raised the bar for amenities, design, and curated service programs, and owners of traditional space are now tasked with elevating their game.”

According to Knight Frank, coworking currently occupies 49.7 million square feet of office space, which equals 1.4% of inventory in large U.S. metro areas. And although the industry is expected to continue on its growth path, this growth could take different shapes and forms.

“There are at least five potential paths the coworking segment of the U.S. office market could take over the next five years based on coworking’s recent growth trends,” the report reads.

Scenario 1. Coworking growth accelerates rapidly and reaches 20% of inventory by 2023.

If this scenario plays out, then coworking would replace traditional office space for a significant share of the market. Due to increased coworking options and competition, it’s likely that coworking prices decrease and become commoditized.

Scenario 2. Coworking continues to grow at its current pace but through consolidation.

This year the industry experienced a strong wave of consolidation, especially from larger players like IWG, WeWork, Industrious, and Ucommune. According to Knight Frank, if growth rates are kept in this scenario, coworking inventory would reach 347 million square feet in 24 large U.S. markets by 2023 with large players absorbing small players to expand their footprint and market capitalization.

Scenario 3. Coworking’s growth slows to 5% per year.

In this scenario large players would remain a force, but a saturated market would mean their growth plans and strategies need to change. If this scenario plays out, coworking inventory would reach 64 million square feet in large markets by 2023 and Knight Frank predicts that property owners and brokerages will leverage their own assets and build suites to compete with flexible workspace operators, which would decrease the growth of the industry. Moreover, as technology continues to evolve and work continues to change, office users may not need as much office space as they currently do, therefore decreasing demand for office space overall.

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Scenario 4. During the next economic recession, coworking occupancy drops by 10%.

A potential economic downturn has been a topic of debate in the industry for quite some time now. Many believe coworking won’t be able to survive because operators would be stuck with long-term lease commitments and they won’t necessarily be able to fill up the space if people are trying to cut costs. In this scenario, major consolidation would take place as smaller companies are forced to merge and coworking inventory would be reduced to 44.8 million square feet in large markets by 2023. In this scenario, it is the smaller operator that would be damaged the most.

Scenario 5. Coworking is completely disrupted during an economic downturn, cutting occupancy by half.

This scenario would mean that the recent growth of coworking is reversed and inventory would be reduced to 24.9 million square feet in large markets by 2023. Smaller operators wouldn’t be able to compete, while larger players would need to change their business model to create economies of scale.

The important thing to note here is that in none of the scenarios does flexible workspace cease to exist. Coworking is here to stay. “The concepts underlying the sector — well-amenitized and flexible office space with shared tenant resources — are here to stay. Though the format will continue to evolve, tenants have responded to this office space model in a way that will not be undone.”

Knight Frank’s opinion is that “coworking growth will most closely align with scenario 2 over the next five years.” This much can be proven by recent M&A and consolidation activity, especially as operators seek to cross borders and grow their footprint internationally and in new markets.

As for Allwork.Space, we agree with Knight Frank that the industry will continue to grow and experience more consolidation. However, an economic downturn will occur sooner or later and the industry will be affected by it; existing operators can prepare and mitigate some of the risk by analyzing the impact of the last economic downturn on executive suites and business centers, in order to learn lessons from it.