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Nikkei Markets

Singapore's shared offices aim to stand out as numbers grow

Demand is holding for now but some foresee a shakeout

Sherman Kwek, group CEO at City Developments, said, “We are delighted to deepen our strategic partnership with Distrii to create the next milestone in the evolution of smart buildings.”   © Reuters

SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) -- As co-working spaces continue to mushroom in Singapore, major operators are stressing the features that distinguish their properties in a market that some say is headed for consolidation.

Last week, Chinese co-working operator Distrii and Singapore's City Developments showed off a 62,000-square-foot co-working space spread across six floors, among the largest in the city-state.

The facility, at Republic Plaza, City Developments' flagship building in the heart of the central business district, has a staggering 900 workstations, private offices, a hall that can accommodate 200, a burger cafe, and a view that includes a banner of Australian company WOTSO, which offers co-working space nearby.

During the media briefing, Sherman Kwek, group CEO at City Developments, pointed to Distrii's proprietary software technology as increasing "stickiness," enabling the company to retain more customers.

The apps are aimed at boosting workplace collaboration, particularly for offices spread across different locations, arranging video conferencing via smartphones, and booking spaces, such as hot desks and parking slots.

Rates at the facility start at 500 Singapore dollars ($373) a month for a hot desk, while a dedicated desk is priced at S$750 a month; private offices start from S$900 a month.

Kwek said that although the location won't officially open until July, occupancy was already at 60%, based on bookings.

Over at Core Collective, which opened in April, the focus is on health professionals such as physiotherapists and personal trainers - the space features treatment rooms and exercise studios.

In the Chinatown area, The Working Capitol's 33,000-square-feet shared office is spread across five shophouses, the picturesque low-rise buildings that reflect Singapore's heritage. The facilities include a beer garden, larger spaces for events and attached restaurants.

Although shared offices began by catering to startups and freelancers who did not want the cost of a traditional set-up or the hassle of a long-term lease, they've evolved to draw larger companies looking to control rental expenses as well as those who see benefits in their staff mingling and collaborating with employees of other companies.

According to real-estate services company JLL, more than 70 firms now offer flexible workspaces in Singapore.

While much of the growth has taken place in the central business district, suburban locations have allowed operators to target a more specific clientele. For example, the German Centre, located in the western part of the island, describes the co-working space in its building as a way to connect with the German business community in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

Between 2014 and 2017, the amount of co-working space offered by major operators that JLL tracked surged 70% to hit 900,000 square feet, accounting for a little over 40% of the total shared-office space across Singapore, its report said. Still, co-working spaces made up just about 2.5% of the office supply and JLL expects the proportion to remain below 5% in the longer term.

Asia-wide, flexible office space grew at a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 36% in the three years to the end of 2017. According to the JLL report, industry leader WeWork has a pipeline of 31 centers in 13 Asian markets.

WeWork, which entered Singapore in December after acquiring local operator Spacemob, lists eight locations in the city on its website, although some are yet to open. Prices for a private office start at S$1,220 a month for its Robinson Road location in the banking district while a desk starts at slightly less than half that.

Despite the robust growth, overall take-up rates are still healthy, said Benedict Lim, managing director for Southeast Asian real estate at Ernst & Young.

However, City Developments' Kwek warned at the Distrii media event that the sector would face a "day of reckoning," with consolidation likely to force some operators to close. He said the survivors would need something more than "just...a cool space."

Patrick Yeo, a PwC partner for asset and wealth management and a leader for its Venture Hub, which collaborates with start-ups and venture capitalists, said he expected a shakeout within 12-24 months. He said that while demand for the space is growing, it may not be sufficient to fill all available desks. Yeo said he expects the better capitalized companies and the leaders to survive.

--Leslie Shaffer

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