15 Key Moments in Flexible Workspace in 2015

What a year! 2015 has been a fast-moving 12 months of furious activity in flexible workspace, with countless expansions, mergers, and outside-the-box thinking. There have been closures, challenges and departures too. But above all, 2015 has seen yet another spectacular flurry of growth and change within our industry, which has laid yet more strong foundations for 2016 and beyond. It’s time to look back and celebrate as OT counts down 15 momentous moments in 2015...

1) It was a year of mergers and acquisitions:
In 2015, Regus stole the spotlight several times having acquired Abby Executive Suites at the start of the year, followed in quick succession by London’s Avanta and later BusinesSuites.

2015 also saw Stark Office Suites acquire Plaza Executive Suites, Central Europe’s DBH take over Exact Business Solutions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Bizspace’s sale to Värde Partners. Finally, in what marked the flexible workspace industry’s “growing maturity”, Clarendon Business Centres doubled in size with the acquisition of Reflex Managed Offices – which came at the same time as London’s Ventia Offices was sold to Christo Wiese’s Boutique Workplace Company.

2) Expansion, expansion, expansion:
In what marks further growth for the global serviced office industry, OT was inundated with stories of expansion and big moves in 2015. Prospect Business Centres opened a new location in London following £1.5million investment, The Executive Centre ventured further into India with its first serviced office in Pune, and ABCN continued its expansion in the Middle East.

Premier Business Centers set up in Miami Tower, Jay Suites launched on Madison Avenue, and Metro Offices opened its 10th location. We also heard positive news from IZA Business Centers, which continued its expansion trail in Mexico City, while Basepoint Business Centres announced a largescale expansion plan in England for the coming years.

Landmark Plc opened a new floor at its Dover Street location in London’s Mayfair, and Bulgaria’s Sterling Serviced Office Group finished the year on a high note with a stunning new business centre in Sofia.

3) Tech took center stage:
Perhaps one of the most notable advancements in the serviced office industry in 2015 was that of technology, and 2016 promises to bring much more in the way of time-saving automation than ever before. Leading the field is essensys, which has taken automation to new heights with its award-winning platform JEFF. According to CEO Mark Furness, the platform is set to introduce yet more new streamlined abilities to the sector in 2016 and beyond.

With Internet proving to be more important than location, good technology is essential for the continuing prosperity of the global serviced office and coworking industry. So it’s encouraging to see more bright ideas and innovation from acclaimed suppliers such as WUN Systems, which are reforming and reinvigorating workspace technology.

4) Office furniture and desks got ‘smart’:
Adaptable furniture that’s as flexible as your workspace might not be mainstream, but leading suppliers and designers like Schiavello, Turnstone and Steelcase are delivering innovative, intelligent solutions to furnish the office of the future. We hope to see more intelligent office furniture designs – including smart desks – in 2016.

5) The industry kept on growing:
All this innovation, smart technology, partnerships and acquisitions led to fast-paced growth within the serviced office and coworking industry. Instant Offices crunched the numbers and recorded impressive expansion within the UK market, as did Deloitte, which found that London’s serviced office market alone has swelled by 67% in the past decade.

There are many other growth indicators too, including this one from Urban Station – a coworking brand that’s doing great things in Latin America. After six short years, Urban Station has strengthened its leadership position in the Latin American coworking market and now plans to continue its expansion in the USA and Canada.

6) Conventional landlords joined the party:
New market entrants are another indicator of growth, and we’ve seen plenty of conventional workspace operators attracting corporate clients with new, flexible contracts and short lease terms. JLL’s HiRise is one example, although they’re not the only corporate giant to blast into the flexible workspace sector.

7) And then there was WeWork.
If there’s one name that’s guaranteed to get tongues wagging, it’s WeWork. The high-value workspace junior has shouldered its way into the flexible workspace industry with impressive gusto, making plenty of noise in the process (but not always in a good way). From questions over its sustainability and concerns over whether beer and startups is really a good mix, WeWork’s rocketing valuation just keeps rising. The headlines are impressive, but the paperwork a little less so – amid concerns over “wildly” forecasted workstation revenues and under-estimated lease expenses.

8) Flexible workspace went on holiday:
2015 saw a surge in the ‘digital nomad’ trend, spearheaded by forward-thinking coworking operators like Outsite and Surf Office. Thanks to the ever-increasing reach of wireless Internet access, flexible workspace is taking off in exciting and exotic new locations, from the rice paddies of Bali to the shores of remote Atlantic islands. All the signs point to a continuing ‘coworkation’ trend in 2016.

9) There was outside the box thinking:
Whoever thought of pop-up coworking at a three-day equestrian event? Clarendon Business Centres did, and it was a great success. Other operators who’ve been experimenting with flexible workspace include Citibase, with their semi-private workspace ‘pods’, and Regus’s strategy to win over the new generation of workers. We also saw Servcorp step away from its habitual corporate colours with a cool graffiti sprayed mural at its new London coworking venue, while UBC, Circle Offices, and Stockholm’s City Office have all been pushing the boundaries of flexible workspace with creative new ideas.

10) And lots of events:
2015 saw ABCN take to the stage at its Strategic Summit in Washington D.C., and a host of coworking events including a thought-provoking Social Workplace Conference organised by coworking evangelist Jean-Yves Huwart, who says that the social workplace will eventually “become the standard work environment for all of us.”

We also heard the latest from DeskMag’s resurrected Global Coworking Survey, announced during the Coworking Europe Conference in Milán, and the entertaining story behind GCUC China, held in Shanghai, which became the world’s biggest coworking conference overnight.

11) There were success stories:
In 2015, as Business Environment celebrated its 21st anniversary, we heard about their slightly unconventional beginnings which eventually led to the creation of one of the UK’s most successful serviced office companies.

More success stories come from The Hub in Singapore, part of the global Impact Hub network, which raised an impressive $1.1 million (S$1.5 million) in a “series A” funding round; Landmark Plc’s record client satisfaction levels; and Metro Offices, which has been named among the Top 25 Women-Owned Businesses in the Washington, D.C. area for the third year in a row.

12) There were more female-only workspaces:
Continuing the theme of women-owned businesses, 2015 saw the launch of more gender-specific workspaces including The Ventura – Australia’s first co-working space designed specifically for female entrepreneurs. While some argue that exclusive workspaces – be they specific to gender or sector – may cause more harm than good, many of these spaces continue to flourish, which suggests that they play a vital role for its users.

13) There was a lot of giving (and not just at Christmas):
Scores of serviced office and coworking operators and companies all over the world spent 2015 giving back, and engaging their workspace communities to help needy causes in ways big and small.

14) …and there were well-deserved awards:
We saw many worthy award-winners this year including the fantastic and often-mentioned Kathlene Buchanan, founder and CEO of Metro Offices, who has been acknowledged for her superior efforts and leadership in the serviced office industry.

Lisa Gufford’s Executive Suite Professionals (ESP) beat off heavyweight competition to scoop the 2015 Best Business of Jacksonville Award, and in November, the BCA awarded Business Environment’s Minories location with the Business Centre of the Year Award. Other winners on the night included Will Tattersall of Instant Offices (Broker Representative of the Year), Hubcreate (Trade Supplier of the Year) and Stonebridge Offices in Leeds (Independent Business Centre of the Year).

15) And we’re still left wondering: What will the future really look like?
There are so many possible futures for our industry. From superfast construction and automated reception services to powerful independents and operators edging into the hotel business, what opportunities does 2016 hold?

We’re already privy to some innovative office design predictions for 2016, and we certainly hope to see more sympathetic workspace design catering to individual personalities. No doubt the Internet of Things will continue to help operators create smarter, tech-savvy workspaces in 2016, aided by the industry’s leading technology suppliers.