essensys’ Coworking In Numbers Webinar: 4 Trends Driving And Shaping The Flexible Workspace Industry

Key takeaways from the Coworking In Numbers webinar hosted by essensys.
  • Key takeaways from essensys’ Coworking In Numbers webinar, which shed light on what’s driving and shaping the industry.
  • essensys welcomed Liz Elam from GCUC, Steve King from Emergent Research, and James Rankin and John Williams from Instant Offices as panelists.
  • The webinar touched on the definition of coworking, the rise of niche operators, corporate demand, and how the industry would most likely be impacted during an economic downturn.

Yesterday, essensys hosted the webinar Coworking in Numbers: The Impact of Market Data, which welcomed Liz Elam from GCUC, Steve King from Emergent Research, and James Rankin and John Williams from Instant Offices as panelists.

The webinar kicked off with a discussion around industry nomenclature, specifically the definition of coworking vs the definition of flexible workspaces. While Elam believes that coworking spaces are focused on community and improving the lives of its members, Ranking and King believe that the industry’s evolution has made it tougher to differentiate between the two as workspace locations continue to merge open with private space.

Suggested Reading: “Coworking Might not Need a New Definition, but It Needs to Broaden the One It Has

Instant Offices uses flexible workspace. Ranking argued that “coworking has become a marketing term, rather than a term for a strict workspace definition.” Instant Offices has found that although people are searching for coworking, they are not necessarily looking for open, shared work environments. Rather, they are searching for private offices within a wider community building.

King, for his part, has reached the conclusion that flexible workspace is an appropriate term for the industry, arguing that “coworking is now a kind of subset of flexible space.”

Definitions are important as they play a key role in research. While Emergent Research’s numbers show that there are around 22,000 coworking spaces worldwide, Instant Offices has tracked around 24,000 globally and believes there are approximately 9,000 they haven’t accounted for. King believes the difference in numbers (although quite similar) can be accounted for by Emergent Research’s narrower coworking definition.

Rankin shared that Instant Offices is seeing high growth in hybrid spaces, those that offer a mix of private and shared workspace environments within a building or floor. “We are seeing less and less pure business centers or executive suites, and fewer pure coworking spaces.”

Elam’s theory is that increased demand of private space is driven, in part, by a thriving economy. While this may hold true, Rankin believes demand of private workspace is increasing because people need a space where they can focus and get down to work.

“We went too far in one direction,” he added.

Elam defended shared workspace areas arguing that they work when they are carefully and thoughtfully designed.

4 Trends Driving and Shaping the Industry

  1. Niche operators
  2. Corporate demand
  3. Real estate stakeholders
  4. Emerging markets

1. Niche and small operators

According to Instant Offices, the top 10 operators in the US make up only 14% of the total market. The rest of the market is made up by small and independent operators. The good news is that both areas are experiencing growth, large operators are scaling up aggressively but since the industry has a low barrier to entry, independent operators are also able to thrive.

King noted that “small and niche spaces are holding their own, and they are growing just as fast as large players in terms of number of spaces and members.”

An interesting development, however, was noted by Elam. “Operators are opening larger locations off the bat.” The industry is welcoming bigger spaces. One of the main reasons behind this is that operators are seeking to cater to corporate occupiers.

2. Catering to corporate occupiers

Instant Offices’ research has found that the average requirement size is for 5 to 6 people, a number that has been increasing steadily over the past several months. “The market is starting to ramp up as bigger teams come in.”

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Elam’s observations point in the same direction, arguing that there is increased demand for team rooms or suites.

Corporate occupiers have become a driving force of the industry. However, they’re searching for a different space-as-a-service experience; they have different needs.

Elam stated that one priority for corporate clients is to be able to maintain their culture: “They don’t want to be in somebody else’s culture and they are searching for spaces that are designed specifically for them. Operators need to be able to deliver on this, as well as meet their technology and security standards.”

Rankin agreed, “corporate occupiers want a space with their own look and feel. They want to be able to bring in their brand to the space.”

According to Instant Offices’ numbers, corporate and large requirements (for teams of 25+) account for about 50% of flexible workspace demand.

3. Real estate stakeholders

Real estate stakeholders and landlords are increasingly interested in the flexible workspace industry.

Suggested Reading: “Top 5 Ways CRE is Crossing into the Coworking Industry

Although landlords are interested in the industry, Rankin argues that “it’s very much in the early stages for them.” Mainly, they are trying to understand what’s happening and how they can fit into it. Although some landlords have directly entered the market with their own flexible workspace brand, the majority of them are looking at the industry from a joint-venture perspective.

It’s not easy to run a flexible workspace and it’s not a landlord’s core business,” he added.

King shared that Emergent Research is comparing this to the hotel industry model. From his perspective, there will be a lot of joint ventures and new partnerships between existing operators and landlords. Elam, for her part, strongly believes that “a significant portion of the market will move towards management agreements and joint ventures.”

Rankin added that although landlords are looking to partner, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will stick with an existing operator’s brand. Some might look to create a new brand, run by an existing operator, but that’s unique to the landlord’s properties.

4. Emerging markets

Instant Offices believes that the industry will experience growth in secondary and tertiary cities, claiming that the “industry is expanding really quickly in these markets.”

King added that the same applies to suburban areas and small towns, while Elam added that rural coworking is also gaining traction.

Wellness, Investment, and an Economic Downturn

Elam predicted that the industry will continue to receive investment. She also stated that the biggest trend is wellness (physical, mental, and environmental wellness), saying that it’s more than a trend, “it’s a focus.”

One shadow that’s hanging over the industry is what will happen when the market enters a downturn. While many have argued that the industry will suffer, the panelists believe the contrary.

Elam is not worried about an economic downturn. She believes that open and shared workspaces will thrive the most in the event of a downturn, as these spaces are less expensive. King argues that when a downturn hits, the industry will be initially affected; however from mid to late recession, the industry will thrive as people shift to flexible workspaces to reduce fixed costs.

Rankin and Williams argued that the industry will experience strong growth even during a recession. Flexibility is key during such times; flexibility is what has driven the industry and it’s what will continue to drive it during a downturn.

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