|Serviced and virtual offices, business hubs and business centres are providing flexible, affordable accommodation solutions for a new breed of businesses. By Patricia Moore.
There’s a revolution happening in office accommodation. Changing work habits and advances in technology, along with the need to cut costs wherever possible, have seen the development of new ways for businesses to present a professional image. This is without the costs usually associated with bricks and mortar.
Options such as serviced and virtual offices, business hubs and business centres are providing flexible, affordable solutions.
“Work is no longer a place you go; it is something you do,” explains William Willems, Regus vice president for Australia and New Zealand. “With this has come a realisation that ‘Martini’ work is now a reality – anytime, anyplace, anywhere. The International Data Corporation expects the number of mobile workers worldwide to reach 1.19 billion by 2013. We see this as a huge opportunity. Each one of them is potentially a client.”
Regus is one of a growing number of companies providing workspaces for this new genre of business owners and workers. “With the costs linked to traditional offices representing between five percent and ten percent of a company’s turnover, businesses of all sizes are looking at office space requirements and examining where they can be outsourced.”
Willems says research has shown the utilisation of an office today is typically only 45 percent. “Empty desks no longer make sense in a world where mobility and agility are accepted as the most effective and sustainable way of working.”
A serviced office comes fully fitted and ready for business; every aspect of the day-to-day operation is taken care of by the facility management company. While fees and services vary by provider, and are tailored to suit, a monthly fee can typically cover everything from common building charges and on-site services (ranging from reception duties and telephone answering to handling mail, security and cleaning) to the use of business machines and video-conferencing technology. Meeting room and boardroom hire may also be part of the package. The views (and some of them are amazing) are free!
Immediate occupancy of serviced premises is a plus. “‘Sign today, start today’ is our catch phrase,” says Annieliza Snow, CBD Business Centre client services manager. “You can basically book any of our services over the phone, online, or just walk in and we’ll tailor a solution to suit your business needs.”
And, just as access may be instantly available, premises can be vacated at short notice too. Enlarging the space as a business grows is also fast and easy, as is reducing it if numbers decrease. “This flexibility gives great long-term savings,” says Snow.
Who’s signing up?
Serviced offices appeal to a wide clientele. Start-ups that don’t wish to be home based, small businesses, satellite company personnel and special project teams are all attracted to the concept. In Wellington, Amy McKinnon, property manager at Primeproperty Serviced Offices, reports a growing demand from new businesses looking for fully-fitted space, businesses that are downsizing, and companies located outside the city after a cost-effective start-up option for a few staff, until the business grows.
McKinnon says a lot of people are surprised at what is included in the monthly rental for a serviced office. “You’re not just getting office space. Everything you need is included in the rent. All you have to do is sort your own phone line. Another advantage for small businesses is the networking with other similar sized businesses in the building.”
Serviced and virtual offices have been well adopted by the New Zealand market and demand is growing, says Annieliza Snow. But are there disadvantages?
While variations of virtual office solutions may be widely available, serviced space is currently limited to major centres. Snow says a tendency towards generic decor and fittings may not always appeal and there can be traps for the unwary with bundled and unbundled packages.
Research out of the UK, where the serviced market is well established, suggests location, accessibility, and the quality of fixtures and fittings are important to potential occupiers. Chloe Boerema, national marketing manager for Servcorp, says they invest, on average, $1 million in opening a new floor. “Businesses benefit greatly from this strong front-desk image and professional corporate working environment. We pride ourselves on our 5 Star boardrooms, meeting rooms, business lounges and office suites in the best A Grade buildings.” And, she says, a focus on IT, including a $5 million investment in an online platform, is giving their clients a commercial advantage.
For many serviced office users the availability of workspace in offshore markets adds further value. Products like the Regus Businessworld membership scheme have revolutionised the way people on the move are able to work, says Willems. “It offers unlimited access to Regus business centres and services around the world and represents great value for money.”