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Gig economy driving growth in flex space across Europe

Global real estate consultancy, JLL, has today (7 November) published Disruption or Distraction, a report delving into the growth of flexible office space across Europe, a sector which has more than doubled in size since 2014 and is set to grow by up to 30 per cent per year over the next five years.

JLL’s research unpicks the main drivers of the sector’s boom – including evolutionary changes in how, when and where people work, shifts in lifestyle, and rapid advancements in technology – and provides unique insights into the risks and rewards for both companies and real estate investors in Europe.

Key findings include:

  • Globally, the amount of flex space in the 20 largest flexible office markets grew by 30 per cent in 2017 – equivalent to around one million sq m.
  • Flexible office space will account for 30 per cent of corporate portfolios by 2030.
  • The market is split into three types of flex space user:
    Conservative: low percentage of flex space in their current portfolios; zero/limited expansion planned
    Experimental: low to moderate percentage of flex space in existing portfolios; up to 10 per cent and beyond in next three to five years
    Visionary: significant usage of flex space; clear and ambitious plans for widespread adoption, reaching upwards of 20 per cent of portfolios
  • Barriers to flex space adoption include concerns around brand dilution, cost, security and confidentiality. But similar risks are associated with non-adoption, around staff retention and attraction, as well as being perceived as stale.
  • With over 700 flex space providers in the industry, consolidation is inevitable and a downturn would accelerate this process. The well-capitalised and experienced providers with geographical diversification will flourish, as well as innovative and niche operators providing a next-generation offer.
  • Investors who need to balance the need for stable long-term income with occupiers seeking flexibility face a number of challenges, from understanding how flexible space will impact asset valuations and market transparency, to the effect on supply and demand dynamics, lease lengths and yields.
  • In response, some landlords and developers will consider establishing their own flex space concepts; collaborating with existing providers; and looking at M&A. Landlord-initiated concepts are burgeoning in cities such as Amsterdam – where they account for 25 per cent of all flex space – London and Paris.

Dan Brown, Head of Flex Space, EMEA, JLL, commented: The rise of flex space is resulting in one of the biggest shifts across the real estate industry that we’ve ever seen. The consumerisation of real estate, which we’ve already witnessed in hospitality and retail, is reshaping business models and investment strategies alike. Our research shows how different markets and different companies are moving at varying speeds, and as the dramatic growth showing no signs of slowing, companies, investors and developers must keep on top of the evolution to understand what this means for their specific business ambitions.”

Alex Colpaert, Head of Offices Research, EMEA, JLL, added: “For investors, flex space offers new opportunities for those who embrace innovation and change, but with no one-size-fits-all approach, it’s not without its challenges. What is clear, though, is that it’s here to stay and is having a real impact on Europe’s office investment environment. Investors should look closely at what’s happening and decide on the most appropriate response for them, whether that’s adopting flexible providers into their buildings, or adapting their strategies to provide their own flexible solutions.”

About Sarah OBeirne

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