The Future Of Flexible Workspace After Lockdown In APAC

New research from the Instant Group reveals ‘severe’ impact on the flexible workspace market in Asia Pacific, but the future looks positive. (Image: Instant Offices)
  • New research from the Instant Group reveals ‘severe’ impact on the flexible workspace market in Asia Pacific.
  • In addition to abrupt vacancies, operators are now facing “price wars, an oversupply in key markets and further unseen challenges”, which is forcing the industry to evolve and diversify.
  • However, despite major short-term challenges, the outlook for APAC remains positive with further growth predicted in 2021.

The Instant Group recently published its “2020 APAC Flexible Office Market Summary”. The report looks at the growth the industry experienced in 2019 and how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted and will continue to affect the industry in the short and long-term. 

“The impact of Covid-19, the first Black Swan event to be seen in a generation, has been severely felt across the industry and is not something that we can ignore.” – Instant Group

Over the past few years, the flexible workspace market in Asia-Pacific has grown at a rapid pace, faster than its global counterparts. From 2018 to 2019, the APAC market saw a total growth in supply of 13%; EMEA and American flexible workspace markets, on the other hand, experienced a growth of 9%. 

Furthermore, last year (2019) “of the top 20 cities across the region, 60% witnessed double digit growth throughout 2019.”

It’s no surprise then, that APAC now boasts seven of the top 10 global cities for flexible space in terms of total number of centers. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the biggest challenge currently facing the APAC region. In fact, The Instant Group expects that growth in supply in 2020  “is likely to be cut right back to single digit levels of just 6%”.

Demand is also likely to be lower than in previous years. “While we had seen global enquiries increase by 45% during the first few months of the year, this growth has completely been reversed as the impacts of Covid-19 are felt,” Instant reported. 

A Healthy Future for Flexible Space

Despite the impact of the coronavirus, The Instant Group believes the long term future of the industry in the region still looks very healthy. 

“The impact of Covid-19 to our long range industry forecast is minimal, despite the disruption that we have seen during the first half of 2020. The APAC region is likely to come out the other side in one of the stronger positions globally.”

This is due to the fact that the appetite for flexible workspace in Asia-Pacific is still there. But, “this does not mean the industry is exempt from short term pain.”

Although it is likely that companies will turn to flexible space in the hopes of reducing capital expenditure and creating cost savings, it will take a while for operators to fully recover. 

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Market: Pricing and Growth

“While it is still too early to tell what the full impact of the Coronavirus on the real estate industry will be, it is expected that it will be similar to the SARS outbreak in 2003. The degree of impact in individual cities will vary based on the severity of the infections. SARS had a more prolonged and deeper impact on the Beijing office market that it did on Shanghai, which experienced comparatively fewer infections. In the longer term, it is expected that the Coronavirus outbreak will encourage more landlords to prioritise flexible working and employee wellness.”

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As for COVID-19, one scenario The Instant Group foresees is the region becoming “less of an expansion target”. Though this could mean less growth, it does pose a valuable growth opportunity for localised providers and landlords as they are the most likely to lead the charge towards renewed growth; both in cities and suburban areas. 

With the end of lockdown in sight, The Instant Group expects businesses to favour offices in suburban areas. This could help operators with their growth strategy as they explore new markets, especially considering that “the only potential obstacle to the continued growth of flexible workplaces in the Asia-Pacific market is the lack of available space for further expansion.”

Growth in supply is one challenge, but so is attracting people back to flexible workspaces. 

“The effects of Covid-19 have been widespread and the impact on pricing is clear. With most employees forced to work from home due to the lockdown restrictions imposed by the pandemic, coworking centres have largely stood empty across most parts of the region. As cities begin to open up and businesses start to return to the office, flexible office providers are slashing their prices to attract and retain clients. Occupancy is everything to ensure cash flow and protect the business model.”

The Instant Group reported a price drop of 11% across the whole region; however that’s not the full story. Some areas, like China and Australia have seen a more positive story with pricing. 

Still, the change in pricing means that competition will be fiercer and not all operators are as well-positioned to slash their prices and remain afloat. 

“The threat of price wars, an oversupply in key markets and further unseen challenges will force the industry to continue to evolve and diversify in order to succeed.”

The good news is that despite the fact that 2020 is a tough year for the flexible workspace industry, “the supply of flexible space is forecast to continue to grow at a rapid pace throughout 2021 and beyond.

Increased awareness, renewed value and an increasing client pool all point to the flexible office industry continuing to thrive in the mid to long term.”

Recommended APAC Event: GCUC APAC (August + September 2020)

Each Tuesday for 4 weeks at 8am Hong Kong time (HKT), we will gather online and discuss one of the four set topics each week (real estate, technology, wellness and best in class ecosystems.) In the room will be industry leaders, peers, investors and operators alike. Get tickets here!

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