Why fascination with shared working spaces is growing

A modern conference facility designed by Workable Nairobi. The offices are located in Sanlam Tower, Westlands. [Standard]
Samir Patel fits the definition of the urbane, suave business executive. The soft-spoken family man is one of a growing number slowly causing a business ripple in Nairobi.

Patel is the chief executive of Workable Nairobi, a new company that has taken 12,000 square feet of space at Sanlam Tower, Westlands and created 19 private office studios that can accommodate 110 people. What, you may ask is the big deal in that?

Local and global corporates may no longer want to embark on time consuming and cost intensive office construction or rent out whole floors in buildings, space that is at times, grossly underutilised. In addition, modern work dynamics require that an employer provides tools and leadership while people choose how and when to work.

Patel’s solution is to create flexible office spaces where people want to go. Through Corgan Associates and Design Partnership Kenya, he designed the space that includes two shared meeting rooms, an in-house full service café and an all-weather events terrace for breakout events or quiet meditation.

Patel says the facility is designed to match international demand for corporate coworking spaces where productivity and employee wellness are at the core. The target user is a well-travelled professional who has been exposed to a variety of experiences and cultures both in a professional and personal level.

“Most office spaces have little room to adjust to the needs of a client. In fact, many landlords do not want to chop their floors and incorporate flexible business models. Why not have a blend of real estate and hospitality? These are disruptive ideas that will change the working space,” says Patel.

Statistics in the commercial office space as well as a commissioned survey by real estate firm JLL reveal a gap within the local office segment.

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For instance, research from three University of Michigan professors found employees who belong to co-working spaces thrive more than their counterparts in regular offices.

A new report by CBRE, among the world’s largest commercial real estate firms projects a worldwide growth of flexible office spaces in 2019 on the back of impressive demand in 2018.

In Asia Pacific, the CBRE research says that over 80 per cent of flexible office leasing was new and expansionary while in the United States, their share of major leasing activity through the first three quarters of 2018 doubled compared with 2017.

In Europe, this sector is most mature in London, with rapid growth in major cities like Paris, Madrid and Amsterdam. Globaly, the shared office industry is estimated to be worth over $100 billion (Sh10 trillion). Interestingly, most of those taking the flexible office space are large corporates in contrast to the common view that such space is only for startups.

“For most observers, the coworking industry is associated with freelancers, startups and small businesses. However, today the biggest growth in the industry is from larger firms and their employees. In fact, close to 20 per cent of 500 large companies in the US now have employees operating from coworking spaces,” says Patel.

In Kenya, tech firms occupy most of the Grade A spaces in Nairobi. The influx of multinational business and non-governmental organisations as well as maturing startups has propelled demand for spaces that can accommodate their need for expansion, while offering the same vibrancy of shared offices.

“Corporations are looking to align their real estate portfolios with broader business goals. Adopting the ‘space-as-a-service’ strategy is one way to deliver both cost management and greater flexibility where you pay for space and services such as meeting rooms on demand,” says Patel.

He says there are many advantages of using a shared office including eliminating the headache that comes with binding, long-term lease agreements, capital expenditures for set-up and provision for expansion or contraction as well as maintenance costs.

“Our model offers a solution to the modern organization that seeks to provide employees with personalized and amenity-rich working environments which improves productivity. Businesses globally are reassessing their real estate needs, generally reducing their office footprints, with many adopting a flexi approach,” he adds. Among those who have taken space at Workable include the top management of Garden City.

Winnie Mutegi, the marketing manager at Garden City says that apart from the convenience of just moving in with a computer and plugging in, the flexible office environment allows for an interactive business environment where one is able to connect with diverse businesses daily.

 “Business thrives on connections. The flexible space means we are able to meet new people from different corporations,” she says.

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University of MichigaSamir PatelNairobiCorgan AssociatesWorkable Nairobi