How the suburbs are driving economic growth

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Millennials and others are discovering that flexspace doesn’t have to mean a city centre far from home


All over the world, the coworking office is rejuvenating once-forgotten inner-city locations at what could be called the “gritty” end of the scale. These are destinations that have typically gone from no-go to des-res in little more than a decade, creating vibrant new places (and prices) in the process. And where rents were once cheap, flexspace has helped small business-owners and startups to maintain a presence at rapidly gentrifying addresses. But, while this is a great solution for some, it’s only one side of the flexspace coin.

Not everyone needs an office in a city centre, and increasingly workers of all stripes are starting to recognise the benefits of suburban coworking. With more space, greener pastures and shorter commutes, what’s not to love? It’s a trend that’s not only supported but actively encouraged by Regus-owner IWG. According to the office-provider’s CEO Mark Dixon, the future of flexspace will still be found in trophy locations, and increasingly everywhere else too – “every town, city and suburb” – all the way from trunk-road stop-offs through to small Swiss villages, with plenty of suburbs in between. “What the modern customer wants – the modern corporation – they want to use space across a country. The days of ‘headquarters buildings’ and people commuting are becoming less and less, and will be a rarity in five years’ time,” he says. For Dixon, it’s all about the satellite office: “That’s what’s causing the change. You need to be where people live, not where people work. And you need to be in every part of the country.”

With the rise of the millennial worker (millennials are now the largest demographic in the global workforce), work and life balance has become an important part of the conversation around how and where we function professionally and personally. Thanks to cloud-computing and always-on connectivity, this is the first generation to have come of age in an era that offers the freedom – and flexibility – to redefine what we do every day; IWG’s Global Workplace Survey, which found that 50% of employees around the world work outside their main office at least 2.5 days a week, supports this theory. According to Dixon, people “don’t want to work too far away” from home when the alternative is “to come out of where they live, walk 100, 200 metres, grab a coffee on the way and go into work, and then come home again”. As any homeworker will tell you, tech has certainly made our lives more convenient – but the real value-add only comes when it’s coupled with the age-old need for community and (human) connection.

Michael Berretta is IWG’s Vice President of Network Development. In an interview with the Commercial Property Executive (CPE) website, he explained how his experience corroborates this trend: “With the rise of the mobile worker, businesses need to have the flexibility to provide a workspace option closer to where their employees live, and this includes the suburbs,” he said. “Contrary to what many people believe, there’s an increase in suburban growth, much of this led by the ‘older generation’, many of whom are married and have children.” If flat sizes in your city are shrinking while your family is growing, it makes sense to relocate to an environment that offers more space for less money – particularly when the pitter-patter of tiny feet adds another expense to monthly outgoings. “Recent reports show that population growth in big cities is slowing while population growth is accelerating in the sprawling counties surrounding them,” Berretta added.

According to a recent report commissioned by Regus, flexible office space will add $254bn (£196bn) to local economies over the next 10 years. The first major socioeconomic study of its kind, it found that the presence of shared offices and coworking on suburbs creates up to 128 new jobs and a Gross Value Add (GVA) of $16.47m (£12.7m) per new office. Known as the “sandwich economy”, this includes the jobs created from building the office, the new business created by those working in it, and even the ancillary services that spring up to service those people –including the cafés and coffee shops making the actual sandwiches to feed them all. And since it’s not only entrepreneurs but also remote workers who tend to occupy suburban locations, the age range – and range of people – tends to be more varied too.   

As remote workers still need to travel into town for a meeting or a presentation on occasion, combining an urban HQ with a suburban location has become an increasingly popular choice among big companies – especially when the latter is situated next to a transport hub. “Larger corporations will need to be able to provide working options closer to where these seasoned employees live if they want to attract and retain that talent,” Berretta told CPE. “With that in mind, coworking companies will need to look beyond dense urban areas and incorporate the suburbs into their growth strategy.” This is something that Regus is already doing, with the introduction of more suburban locations identified as a major part of its plans for global expansion. The flexspace-provider has recognised that work is a thing you do rather than where you do it – and is making that a possibility for people all over the world, whatever the postcode.


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