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The future of co-working space in South Africa

The co-working space in South Africa has seen tremendous growth over the years since its inception in early 2000. From small entrepreneur startups to large international corporates, convenience and the desire for exciting worker-space experiences is what continues to drive demand.
Andrew Utterson, director of Heartwood Properties
Andrew Utterson, director of Heartwood Properties
I estimate that the worldwide co-working floor space, as a percentage of all commercial floor space, will grow from the current level of around 1.5% to approximately 15% in the next 10 to 15 years. Co-working locations may also start appearing in vacant retail spaces as the move to online retailing accelerates.

Here's how the co-working space is evolving in South Africa and why it’s a sector worth investing in.

If you want to be plugged into the future you need to be plugged into a co-working space

Convenience, mobility, flexibility, choice and a sense of community will continue to drive future workforces and millennials to demand co-working spaces. With technology forming the backbone of all these offerings, most co-working spaces will be made up of a combination of cubicles, open shared spaces and private offices.

More of the larger property funds are also starting to take notice and are either testing the water or partnering with established operators to fill their vacant spaces. For example, Investec has partnered with FutureSpace (Giant Leap) and has multiple co-working sites in Sandton, while Growthpoint has partnered with Workshop 17 (Open) with a site at the V&A Waterfront and another at the Maboneng Precinct in Joburg.

Worker experience a major factor in distinguishing co-working spaces

It’s the overall experience, multitude of services and sense of community co-working spaces offer that makes them more attractive. The ongoing deployment of managed new technologies, high speed internet and customer specific IT solutions make most co-working spaces more convenient for potential clients.

Co-working spaces or serviced office businesses are hospitality-type businesses and have a similar service ethic to that of hotels. There is a massive emphasis on good customer service and a quality client experience. In comparison, buildings that offer “shared spaces” and have no management of these spaces are essentially boxes for rent.

Co-working influences how buildings are designed and built

Co-workers are demanding a quality experience from their clean modern day working environments such as fashionable interiors with interesting or fun break away zones, hotel style reception and ablutions, excellent security, healthy food options, leading coffee brands, high speed internet and professional support staff. More and more new buildings are being designed with the potential to host a successful co-working operator should the opportunity arise, including shopping malls.

Vacant retail space is ideal for accommodating co-working

With so many of the bigger retailers not requiring the massive floor space thanks to online shopping, many retail spaces are standing empty. Retail spaces want customers with money in their pockets walking around their centres and co-working clients fit this profile perfectly. They are normally higher LSM types who will spend money in restaurants and shops. I’d expect most new retail centres to be making design plans to accommodate co-working as part of their tenant mix. Retail centres also normally have ample parking which is a big plus for co-working.


There are currently over 100 co-working locations across South Africa and approximately 14,000 sites worldwide with this number likely to grow to over 21,000 sites by 2022. And it’s not only market leaders who will lead this growth, smaller co-working providers will also find a sizeable space in the market with big organisations slow to change and not able to fill niche markets.

This means co-working is here to stay. And it’s going to influence more than just the way we work and interact with each other but ultimately see building design and construction evolve in order to meet this growing sector.

About Andrew Utterson

Andrew Utterson, director of Heartwood Properties and ex-CEO of The Business Centre Group

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