Growing trends may make traditional office space less attractive as people choose alternatives.
Remote working is a rapidly growing trend internationally and in South Africa, that is raising questions about how much it will impact on traditional office spaces.\
After all, if more workers are operating from home offices and even coffee shops, will there even be a need for office blocks? Or does it simply mean the traditional way of managing and utilising office space will change?
“In a South African context I think remote working is still the exception rather than the rule,” says Brad Porter, founder of Flexible Workspace, which provides office and flexible offices. However, he adds: “This trend will definitely grow, and I would go as far as to say that remote working will increasingly become the rule.”
What will fuel its growth are factors such as traffic congestion, the high cost of travel and real estate, technology and the millennial mindset, Porter explains.
Obviously, in some parts of the country the trend will develop faster than in other parts. In Cape Town it will perhaps catch on faster than in other cities and provinces.
“The creative influence in Cape Town is paving the way for a more nomadic work life.”
For this reason, Porter says there will be a change in approach to office space, with more flexible arrangements – such as serviced spaces – becoming more attractive.
A serviced office is an office or building that is fully equipped and managed by a company which will rent individual offices or floors to companies or individual business people. The emphasis is on flexibility and immediacy.
Already in Cape Town there are a number of serviced office operators, Porter says, although “we have seen operators come and go, which seems to indicate saturation, particularly on the co-working and work-share environments”.
“Future office spaces and services will take on more Uber-like approaches, with users looking for instant gratification. They want a space now, they want to know how close it is to where they currently are, what the cost is, and if they can pay with Bitcoin,” says Porter.
David Seinker, CEO of The Business Exchange, which also rents out office spaces, including virtual offices and meeting rooms, agrees.
“We are seeing a shift throughout the country, with a more lively tech scene taking shape in Cape Town,” says Seinker.
He says SMEs continue to do battle through the challenging economic climate and, as a result, they need more flexibility.
Although Cape Town remains a robust commercial property market, Seinker says the trend globally is proving that it makes financial sense for businesses and individuals to only pay for the space they need.
Even traditional property developers see the evolvement.
“The office product may need to be diversified to accommodate people who need office infrastructure on a part-time basis. Staff are looking for flexibility, but this isn’t available for every type of job or industry sector,” says Grant Smith, development director at JT Ross Property Group.
This does not mean office space will no longer be needed. Although remote working is a growing trend internationally, Smith says South Africans have been slow to adopt this way of working.