Comment: Flexible office space isn’t just good for start-ups

The commercial property industry is changing ' it's not just SMEs who want flexibility, says Marsden. Picture: contributed.
The commercial property industry is changing ' it's not just SMEs who want flexibility, says Marsden. Picture: contributed.
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By now, almost everyone will be familiar with the benefits of flexible working, where the ­traditional nine to five is shunned in favour of work patterns that better suit an employee’s circumstances.

But the rise of flexible offices, and the reasons behind that, are probably less well-known.

Flexible offices can be known as ­serviced or managed offices, business centres, ­co-working or shared spaces. These terms still tend to conjure up images of entrepreneurs sipping lattes and playing table tennis in sociable spaces, especially within business accelerators or incubators. But the commercial property industry is changing, and it’s not just start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which want flexibility.

Across all sizes of business, there’s a growing focus on improving employee wellbeing – and by extension, productivity. While some workers are happiest and at their most productive in bustling ­open-plan spaces, others need smaller, quieter places to focus. For start-ups and SMEs, this search for more flexible, adaptable spaces often leads them to co-working hubs.

The commitment to a co-working space is much less than for a traditional workplace, making it a popular option for start-ups, which can find it hard to predict their ongoing space requirements.

Changing technology and an uncertain economy are also driving larger companies to reconsider real estate decisions. Some are seeking serviced and managed offices that offer shorter leases, often to supplement their main accommodation when working on short-term projects.

Urban regeneration company Clyde Gateway’s Red Tree Business Suites model is a good example of flexible office provision. Red Tree Bridgeton and Rutherglen are already fully occupied. A third sibling, Red Tree Magenta, will soon become the first building on the Magenta office park that we’re developing in partnership with Clyde Gateway, which will eventually be home to more than one million square feet of office space. The building will open later this year and is already more than 50 per cent pre-let.

The Red Tree model works because it offers a wide range of leasing. It can accommodate the solo entrepreneur at a rental desk for a month, but also a team of 90 across a whole floor for the long haul. The buildings offer communal meeting rooms, kitchens and sociable spaces, and cycle storage and showers. The first ­tenant at Red Tree Magenta, property management firm Speirs Gumley, expects that the move from its traditional city centre office will boost productivity and wellbeing.

Because we recognise this growing trend for occupier flexibility, at the wider Magenta development we’re working on a model that allows flexible use of buildings. Many firms still want to have control over their own ­corporate space on more traditional leases, but in buildings designed to facilitate flexibility and change. These can even be complemented by access to short-term project space in serviced offices – such as Red Tree.

Property agent CBRE recently surveyed a large cross-section of landlords about flexible offices and 77 per cent said they are considering some form of flexible provision. The ­proportion of companies whose use of flexible space is “moderate to substantial” is expected to rise from 30 per cent currently to 45 per cent in just three years’ time.

CBRE’s research shows that the ­flexible office bubble is unlikely to burst soon. Where there is not a dedicated service office building available in very close proximity, some landlords may consider building new premises that lend themselves to flexible ­provision.

However they choose to do it, the reward for forward-thinking landlords who embrace the balance between core office space and flexible provision will be finding it easier to attract occupiers, but also retaining them as they grow and evolve.

Guy Marsden, director at Highbridge Properties.