Co-working takes its lead from hotels in offering more services

Co-working intelligence

The past decade has seen a dramatic transformation in co-working space. Once the realm of independent providers, often entrepreneurs or groups of entrepreneurs who saw a need for dedicated workspace beyond the basement office or neighbourhood coffee shop, it’s now a way to house rotating teams of workers and shifting space demands.

(Just think of how differently the dot-com bust of 2000 would have played out if hopeful tech startups had added space in small increments rather than entering ambitious lease commitments only to return excess space to the market for sublease. Co-working effectively makes subleasing the first stop.)

The newest space in Vancouver comes courtesy of iQ Office Suites Holdings Inc., launched in Toronto in 2012 and now active in five cities across Canada. It opened in Vancouver in 2017 and added a second floor at 1055 West Georgia Street on December 1 for a total of 30,000 square feet in the city. An additional 13,000 square feet at 550 Robson Street opens in January.

Most of the tenants on West Georgia are large companies, said iQ co-founder and CEO Kane Willmott during a recent tour of the unfinished premises. The company’s client roster includes Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, banks CIBC and RBC and Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. The space exudes a polished, triple-A vibe, while the location on Robson has a moss wall that lends a wild touch.

“Most of our companies are already profitable,” Willmott said, noting that iQ itself has also been successful, turning a profit since it began.

Its niche is spaces of less than 10,000 square feet, often much less. Its first floor at 1055 West Georgia is broken up into 56 separate offices (an average of 265 square feet apiece), while the new opening has 11 offices or an average of 1,350 square feet apiece. The spaces house teams that generally run from four to 25 people. Privacy is ensured through virtual networks for each space, while sound abatement measures and screening allow each team to collaborate independently.

“We want them to have an amazing workday,” Willmott said. “I believe this is the future of office space for under 10,000 square feet.”

Blurred boundaries

The density of workers occupying iQ Office’s premises recalls a comment John O’Bryan, now honorary chair of CBRE Ltd., made five years ago during a review of commercial markets at a market outlook breakfast preceding the Vancouver Real Estate Strategy and Leasing Conference.

“Collaboration is the constant theme of this new workplace,” he observed, noting that office towers built with 200 to 250 square feet per worker were seeing people given 100 square feet and less.

But the economical use of space is matched by a greater level of service, which Wendy Waters, vice-president, research services and strategy, with GWL Realty Advisors Inc., told the Urban Land Institute’s recent Emerging Trends in Real Estate event migrated from hotels to commercial property managers.

“The people that use the space are guests, and we’re trying to provide a better experience for them,” she said.

A key part of that experience is flexibility, something co-working providers offer with no loss of office amenities along the way.

“[It’s] offering that opportunity for a one-year lease, one-month lease, three-year lease instead of a long-term lease,” she said. “And it’s turnkey.”

It may not be cheaper than other forms of space, she said, but its simplicity offers value.

“It’s all right there, given you as a service. And so it’s not necessarily cheaper; in fact it’s probably more expensive,” she said. “But it’s simpler, and it allows you to focus on your core business, so in the long run it may turn out to be a better value.”