GCUC 2019: Is The Coworking Market Saturated?

The short answer is no, the market is not saturated. But the market is shifting, and operators need to watch out for changing requirements.
  • GCUC USA 2019 is taking place in Denver, Colorado, and one of the major topics up for discussion is whether the coworking market is saturated.
  • Industry leaders took part in a panel, ‘Designing to Differentiate in a Saturated Market’, and the general consensus is that the market is not saturated.
  • However, the market is shifting, as more large companies are engaging with flexible space. They have a different set of needs from smaller companies, and higher expectations.

Is the coworking market saturated?

That was the first question Rachel Bannon-Godfrey from Stantec posed to Jonathan Puleio from Humanscale, Jacob Bates from Common Grounds, Rachel Wilcox from Varidesk, and Jamie Miller from Union Coworking during GCUC’s panel session “Designing to Differentiate in a Saturated Market”.

Bates believes the market is not saturated. “The entire flexible workspace stock in the US represents less than 1% of the entire office space inventory. Penetration is pretty low.”

The other panelists nodded in agreement as Bates made his point.

Deskmag’s 2019 survey findings are slightly in line with this. According to findings presented by Carsten Foertsch, “in the US, 18% of coworking operators say there are too many coworking spaces; 69% say the amount is just right; and 13% say there are too few coworking spaces.”

And even though the market is not saturated, it is shifting. Puleio argues that large companies are driving this shift. “There’s a shift to larger companies, they are now engaging with flexible workspaces and they have a different set of needs than smaller companies. They also have higher expectations.”

Puleio and Wilcox argued that corporates looking at the industry expect a greater degree of flexibility. But for these enterprises, flexibility isn’t about short-term memberships; for them flexibility is about the level of control they have over moderating, laying out, and designing the space.

“It’s about how you design your space and how you do it in a way that can anticipate needs,” Wilcox added.

The panelists are onto something.

During the roundtable research session, Steve King from Emergent Research, Carsten Foertsch from Deskmag, and James Rankin from Instant Offices spoke about flexible workspace inquiries and how requirements are growing. “People have larger requirements; they’re searching for flexible workspaces that can accommodate up to 50 people, and more.”

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    The issue is that, according to Instant Offices’ research, only 9% of existing operators can cater to these requirements.

    Miller stated that design and furniture can play a big role in making a space feel bigger. Union Coworking created its own line of furniture designed especially for open plan environments. “Our furniture is engaging and it improves space efficiency.”

    Furniture, however, isn’t just about space utilization. “Furniture needs to be able to adapt quickly, in real time and on-demand,” Wilcox argued. Bates added that furniture must help operators “hack a space” by enabling it to adapt to its users and the tasks they need to fulfill.

    Furniture and other design elements like thermal comfort, lighting, and desk/chair position can play a key role in differentiation and workplace wellness. Puleio argues that one challenge of today’s workplace is that its environments are not customizable for different tasks without having to start from scratch.

    “Someone that is doing computer programming work has very different space requirements from a marketing specialist. Those things seem obvious, when you look  at the finished product (in this case space) they’re designed very similarly.”

    Luckily, big data can help. Or some panelists think so.

    Big data can help better shape the future of coworking and flexible workspaces as it can help operators “make informed decisions based on how people actually use and interact with the space,” Wilcox added.

    “I’m a big fan of big data,” Bates said. “In coworking, it can drive the transformation of all offices; it can help companies across industries improve space utilization.”

    As for the future of the industry, it’s full of opportunities. But if operators want to stand out in their growing markets they’ll need to turn to human-centric design, tackle wellness, and think niche.

    Stay tuned for more takeaways from GCUC 2019 in Denver.

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