‘Co-anything’ – where sharing is the new economy
With a sharing economy, we are entering an era of ‘co-anything’. Once thought to be a passing fad or a threat to conventional businesses, the sharing economy is now one of the fastest growing business trends worldwide. It is proving to be increasingly extensive, effective and relevant for individuals and organisations in various industries. According to a 2019 report on the Sharing Economy by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the five key sharing sectors – travel, car sharing, finance, staffing, music and video streaming – have the potential to increase global revenues from roughly $15 billion today to around $335 billion by 2025.
Driven by the economics of value, speed and convenience, the sharing economy permeates to real estate with co-working now being the most pervasive trend and proliferating across more than 100 cities globally. Other modes of co-sharing real estate are emerging in various industry sectors. How has the landscape of co-sharing real estate evolved? Would their attractiveness to users continue to endure, and how would these shared space operators possibly move forward as competition ratchets up.
List Sotheby’s International Realty (List SIR) Singapore studied the phenomenon of the sharing economy and its impact to forge the concept of co-sharing in real estate. In this report, we cast our spotlight on two main co-sharing models in office and residential sectors – co-working and co-living, prevailing fast-growing trends that are evolving to become appealing business and lifestyle solutions, respectively. Underpinned by the higher acceptance of the sharing concept in society, we deduced the prospects and other possibilities of co-sharing in real estate that could expand in the coming years.
Power of Sharing Economy
In the sharing economy, providers fulfill consumers’ needs in a peer-to-peer marketplace where resources are utilised more efficiently. The consumer requires a convenient and cost-effective solution, while the provider can be any individual who offers the goods and service, a freelancer with the required skills, or an organisation that can offer the physical space, as well as no-frills and hassle-free services. Essentially, the decentralisation of service offerings is made possible in the sharing economy.
In this economic principle, the sharing economy mainly encompasses these economic systems: peer-to-peer economy, the gig economy (or freelancing), crowd-funding and co-sharing of real estate. These systems are increasingly prevalent across industries over the past decade, as technology is making share-based transactions much easier. The mindsets of entrepreneurship –
‘follow your dream and doing your own thing’, and minimalism – ‘keep things simple and declutter’, have spurred the workforce towards the freelance ‘gig’ model, fuelling the expansion of the sharing economy.
In Singapore, the number of residents who are self-employed for at least six months rose to 223,500 in 2018, about 10% higher than the year before. Primary freelancers, who depend on self-employment as their livelihood, made up 8.4% of Singapore’s resident workforce. These statistics were shared by Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in her parliamentary speech in March. In another analysis, Morgan Stanley, in its ‘The Gig Economy Goes Global’ commentary, estimated that freelancers represent 35% of the total U.S. working population in 2018 and could represent more than half of the country’s workforce by 2027.
Rapid digitalisation of day-to-day processes and shifts in business models are also taking the sharing economy from an ideology or marketing strategy to a growing business opportunity. First-generation unicorns who have successfully tapped on the sharing economy and utilised tech ingenuity have become familiar household names. Pioneers of ride-sharing platforms Uber and Grab have successfully liberalised the ride-hailing services industry and any pre-qualified driver can provide transport services to anyone and anywhere. In the hospitality sector, accommodation-sharing platform Airbnb emerged as a stellar unicorn in the tech travel scene, with listings of over 5 million lodging options in over 81,000 cities worldwide. Forbes estimated Airbnb’s business to be worth around US$38 billion last year, exceeding the valuation of some international hotel brands.
The platform players have maximised their ‘asset-light’ advantage – by not owning the asset and linking providers (who own the asset) to consumers through their digital platforms. The company derives its revenue by charging the providers and consumers a portion of booking and associated costs as a service fee. The viability of this business model hinges on speed – to enable convenient connections of people and transaction of goods and services on the online platform, and network coverage such as number of members, listings, locations, etc and extent of ancillary services. Within the last ten years, we have witnessed the proliferation of many sharing platforms for various sectors.
The sharing economy takes a different slant in real estate, where a service provider or an operator designs space for users to share common living or workspaces. These operators take up spaces on a longer-term lease from landlords and sub-let them to users who need work and living space on a flexible, more affordable and usually shorter lease arrangement. They also deploy digital strategies to reach out to existing and new members, who come together to share knowledge and connections, collaborate and build relationships. This style of ‘co-sharing’ real estate in Singapore is now widely accentuated in co-working and co-living concepts.
Co-Working – the New Way of Work
The fast-changing business landscape, coupled with digitalisation and shifts in workforce demographics and preferences, are altering work-styles in fashionable ways. Flexibility is becoming more important for businesses, as they need to be a lot more adaptable and nimbler to tackle the ever-changing market needs. Staying ‘in fashion’ involves having to create a conducive workplace to attract and retain talent. This trend stems from the two key paradigms of the ‘hustle’ (to seek new things and meet new people) and ‘minimalism’ (to keep things simple), which are permeating amongst the younger workforce and are shaping their mindsets of how work should be.
As business and people converge, organisations and workers of today desire flexibility, convenience, and being part of an enlarged community. These have become essential criteria for the use of real estate to achieve a sense of empowerment and meaning in their work.
Evolution of Shared Offices to Co-Working
Distinct from traditional offices, co-working (or spelt as ‘coworking’) spaces are essentially shared offices where people from different organisations work in the same environment. This concept was first adopted by users who come together for a transient purpose, either on a freelance or ad-hoc work basis. When the co-working concept first began in Berlin in 1995, they attracted mainly tech start-ups. Space layouts were primarily catered with efficiency and convenience in mind, to allow the users to work on a ‘plug-and-play’ and interact with neighbours to gain knowledge and ideas. Incubator spaces and corporate shared offices were the first two formats of shared offices.
Incubator spaces is a dedicated type of shared spaces for budding entrepreneurs. However, the residency of some incubator spaces is attached with criteria such as the nature of business and targets, thus the growth of incubator spaces was limited to qualified start-ups.
Corporate shared offices, which first started from business centres and were well-received by the traveling business community, expanded beyond the Central Business District to CBD fringes to cater to wider groups of start-ups. These users needed an office location with a desired office address, typically shorter lease and maintenance services. The general design was mainly comprising standard-sized interior office space for each user and with a clean-cut concierge entrance lobby.
As the demands for business development and interaction grew amongst start-ups, shared offices have evolved in terms of layouts and service offerings, to provide users with greater freedom of usage, flexible lease terms and the option to alter space requirements. Today, co-working spaces are the new trendy version of shared office communities, evolving into a flexible workspace sector that is reaching a new high point. Following many years of continuous transformation, global demand for temporary offices, meeting rooms, co-working space, and plugging into an extensive networking community is set to boom as occupier needs change along with globalisation and digitalisation.
Growth of Co-Working Players
Co-working space is rapidly expanding worldwide with significant investors in the game. The WeCompany, one of the world’s most prolific start-ups, has expanded its WeWork co-working operations across 787 locations in 124 cities (as at September 2019). Its rival International Workplace Group (IWG), the world’s largest provider of flexible work places and owns established operator brand names such as Regus and Spaces, offers shared workspaces in over 3,000 business centres globally.
Transformation of co-working in Singapore
Incubator spaces and corporate shared offices first came into existence in Singapore since the early 2000s. It was only in 2015 when The Working Capitol was viewed as the first co-working operator that started the new-age shared office environment. The Working Capitol opened its first workspace shared environment in a heritage locale at Keong Saik, spanning five light filled, historic shophouses with a total of 33,000 square feet. Showcasing cosy interiors including communal spaces, break-out rooms and even wellness corners, The Working Capitol provides options for companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals with hot desks and private offices. It also offers community programmes, professional and lifestyle events for their members.
Since then, the co-working space segment has been flourishing in Singapore, with an average of 8 new players entering the market annually. Based on research by List SIR, there are currently 124 co-working locations in Singapore with the highest proportion in District 1, the largest precinct within the Central Business District.
Acceleration of co-working movement
1. Cost-Push Factors
In the conventional demand for traditional office space, tenants search for shell-and-core space from landlords, sign a fixed lease tenure of typically 3 to 5 years, incur capital expenditure (CAPEX) to fit out and furnish for dedicated usage and reinstate to original state at the end of the lease. The upfront space planning, invested CAPEX and recurring rental costs rest on the tenants. With rising business uncertainties and changing headcount requirements, the growing need for space and lease flexibility now extends beyond entrepreneurs and start-ups to established corporations.
In Singapore, the rising office rentals and reducing vacant stock in CBD (Downtown Core) and Orchard areas over the past two years have partly pushed office tenants to consider co-working space. Tenants, becoming co-working users, sign up as members at monthly rates ranging from around $500 to close to $1,000 for a dedicated desk and enjoy communal facilities with fellow members. On the other hand, the elevated rentals have added more upfront cost pressures on co-working operators who search for choice locations and lock in a longer-term fixed lease with office landlords. Yet, the increased occupancy cost has not deterred well-funded co-working operators from expanding their footprint in Singapore.
2. Progressive Hierarchy of Needs
The choice of a workspace is fast evolving beyond cost efficiency to flexibility, as enterprises need to stay nimble to adjust occupancy costs and spatial needs according to business requirements. Office users can either lease hot and dedicated desks, or dedicated bulk spaces within flexible serviced offices or trendy co-working spaces. When the fundamental needs of cost effectiveness and space elasticity are achieved, users yearn for the higher levels of needs and self-actualisation – finding connections with others to share networks, ideas and knowledge, and being part of a community. Co-working spaces are able to achieve all four levels of needs (see Exhibit 9).
3. Something thrives in a co-working space – the Human Touch
Members from diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, independent professionals and corporate employees, are reported to demonstrate a higher level of thriving in a co-working space compared to traditional offices. According to a Harvard Business School survey conducted on several hundreds of workers from various co-working spaces in the US, three substantial predictors of thriving in co-working spaces are revealed. Firstly, co-working space members find their work meaningful. Having the freedom of choice in the work they embark on, able to express themselves openly with little direct competition, and be part of a culture where it is a norm to help each other, are reinforcing behaviours to promote learning. Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger and enable co-workers with unique skill sets to collaborate with one another.
Secondly, the members have more job control. While members can choose their work hours flexibly, having a community helps them create discipline that motivates them. The third key predictor is that members feel part of a community. The opportunity to network with others is a big reason why people pay to work in a communal space rather than work from home for free or rent a nondescript office. Co-working operators invest efforts and thoughts in community management to cultivate a unique experience for their members. In essence, the combination of hardware and software – well-designed work environment, thoughtfully-curated work experience, and the people who co-work have substantial autonomy and authenticity, create a thriving and vibrant co-work culture.
As competition ratchets up with more co-working players in the market, the quest to grow membership clientele becomes critical. Factors that matter for co-working space users (i.e. sub-tenant users or members) are primarily Price (flexibility and affordability), Style (to fit user’s business nature), Impression (image to clients and business associates), Location (address, property appeal and surroundings) and ‘Software’ (to enhance ‘stickiness’ of tenants to stay with the operator).
New age shared office in co-working settings now boast intricate interior designs to provide a sense of comfort and joy. The visual senses, which invoke emotive of feeling Energetic, Warm, Welcoming, Stimulating, Posh, Sophisticated, Trendy or Stylish, vary according to the operator’s brand positioning to suit users’ profile and image expectations.
Communal facilities are thoughtfully planned to cater for various ways of interactions and community building amongst members. Apart from dressing up the hardware (physical space), the other key strategy is creating a suite of ‘software’ services – solutions that bring administrative and operational convenience to members, combined with well-curated programming to foster networking and build communities according to the profiles and needs of members.
Beyond these user criteria that most co-working operators could fulfil today, the proactive approach to intimately understand the customer’s needs, exercise usage flexibility and provide the most relevant space concept would be the co-working operator’s key unique selling points.
Changing Business Models for Co-working
Many self-made co-working operators started off on a ‘lease and rent’ model, which involves the operator signing a fixed long lease with the landlord and renting out desks and spaces on a shorter and flexible lease. This entails higher risks for the operator with fixed upfront occupancy and CAPEX costs and transient downstream revenue receipts from members.
The joint venture (JV) model becomes the next growth model as office landlords desire to partake in the fast-growing co-working realm and sought collaboration with experienced partners. A 50-50% JV between CapitaLand and The Work Project, known as The Work Project Kingdom (TWPK), has acquired Collective Works’ co-working business in Q4 2018. City Developments (CDL) and Chinese operator Distrii opened its 62,000 sq ft co-working space at CDL’s Republic Plaza in 2018. In the same year, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and Frasers Property partnered with JustCo with a total JV investment sum of US$177 million to develop a co-working platform across Asia.
Having gained knowledge of the essential ingredients of vibrant co-working spaces and the spillover benefits across the workspace ecosystem, some landlords have started their own co-working business, which we termed as the ‘landlord-led’ model. KLOUD, established by Keppel Land, has its co-working business presence in Singapore, Vietnam and Myanmar.
The Core and Flex model, comprising a hybrid of fixed-lease traditional office space (‘core’) and flexible shared serviced office and co-working spaces (‘flex’), is postulated as the next probable leasing model for real estate players. Given the unpredictability of business cycles and greater difficulty to plan headcount and workspace needs, entrepreneurs and enterprises need higher degrees of agility. Companies desire to change their short and/or long-term physical footprint and to access to different types of workspaces to conduct various work activities. The building owner has greater control and scalability to enable tenants to mix and match core and flex spaces into a lease, within the same building and/or across the owner’s building asset portfolio according to the tenants’ needs. Communal facilities, which are part of the ‘flex’ spaces, can be designed with greater economies of scale and benefits all tenants and shared office users under one roof, fostering a thriving business community. Such a co-sharing of communal spaces is similar to Bridge+, a landlord-led co-working space powered by CapitaLand. Bridge+ created a thriving co-working environment for a growing business community of start-ups and enterprises in the Singapore Science Park. Combining modern shared amenities with programming of events curated for both co-working members and business space tenants, Bridge+ is able to develop high community engagement.
GuocoLand Singapore is introducing the core and flex leasing model over 15% of the office net lettable area in its upcoming Guoco Midtown 950,660 sq ft mixed-use development. This model will give tenants flexible and adaptable spaces to expand or contract their headcount size without having to move or renovate their main offices. CapitaLand is planning for Capital Tower and Asia Square Tower 2 as the first two buildings in Singapore to embrace core-flex offerings under their core-flex strategy.
Establishing Footprint in Singapore and beyond
Morphed from their prior experience in serviced offices, established serviced office players such as IWG further cemented their co-working business both in Singapore and around the world with over 3,000 locations. The We Company, currently at the stage of active fund raising has been on rapid expansion plans for their core co-working business.
WeWork Singapore is taking up the entire building at 21 Collyer Quay on a seven-year lease commencing in Q2 2021. This significant step to lease a building from landlord CapitaLand Commercial Trust will unleash multiple opportunities of creating a vibrant co-working environment across a building.
Singapore home-grown players are building their competitive advantage beyond Singapore to Southeast Asia. JustCo is on track to triple its regional footprint by the end of 2019, to more than 140,000 square metres of office space in eight cities in Australia, Greater China and Southeast Asia.
The Great Room, known for its hospitality-centric service, uniquely tailored interior designs and measured approach to expansion plans, opened its fourth location at the iconic Raffles Hotel in July 2019.
Co-Living – The next trendy home option
Co-living is a form of accommodation where occupants share common living space as well as their interests. This concept extends from the co-working community where fellow users, such as travelling work nomads and expatriates share lodging to save costs, and desire to connect with people within their limited leisure time after work.
Donning comfortably-designed living areas with a room or whole apartment unit rented out on flexible lease, co-living is a revamp of the age-old shared housing concept. This form of living is catering to growing demand mainly from millennial expatriates. Housekeeping services are offered as an option to tenants, together with the free use of communal facilities. Soft programming for the users such as events and networking opportunities fosters a live-in community of openness and bonding. The co-living concept is reliving the ‘kampung spirit’ in a cool lifestyle, and at the same time providing affordability, convenience and community-oriented living for the occupants.
Adapting to global traveller needs
Conventionally, the needs of transient city-living were largely logistical, with expatriates looking for availability, safety, and reliability. Today, these “perks” are a given as new good quality residential properties are built, public transport accessibility are improving in some cities and residential landlords are enhancing their lease and physical space offerings to attract tenants.
Co-living is the product of ‘hotelisation’ of real estate and globalisation of communities, as operators found the sweet spot to effectively respond to the needs of millennial global travellers. Co-living combines these essential perks of live-in accessibility with lease flexibility, hospitality and connection with a community. To enhance stickiness of tenants, co-living operators are offering Community Management, with digital tools to connect tenants to a ready network of like-minded folks. On top of expected hotel-style offerings with housekeeping services, tenants in co-living environments feel like being at home and in the company of friends.
The footprint and players of Co-living
Based on List SIR estimates, there are currently 56 co-living sites in Singapore and they are mainly located in prime districts and city fringes. Hmlet, lyf Funan Singapore and Login are presently the three largest co-living operators in Singapore.
Hmlet is rising its prominence as a dominant co-living player in Singapore. Founded in 2016, Hmlet positions its brand as a flexible housing solutions provider, connecting people and offering thoughtfully-designed living spaces and build a sense of home and community. Its fund-raising efforts has made good progress, having raised a total of US$48 million as of July 2019.
Recognising the potential demand for a new way of living, The Ascott Limited unveiled its new coliving brand ‘lyf’ (which stands for ‘Live Your Freedom’) with the recent opening of lyf Funan Singapore, the largest co-living property in Southeast Asia. lyf is designed and managed by millennials for the millennials and millennial-minded.
Riding the waves to grow co-living
Apart from globalisation and the intangible needs of global travellers, the basic factor of cost influences the decisions of tenants to choose co-living and thereon contributes to the growth rate of co-living footprint in a city. Elevated room rates of hospitality spaces, housing prices and rents have prompted tenants to source for alternative options beyond conventional rentals of apartments and hotel rooms. Cities with high costs of accommodation are hotbeds for the growth of real estate sharing platform players and co-living operators.
In Singapore, landlords of new condominiums, having paid a higher price, would seek higher rentals to support yield expectations. Yet, the influx of new built private home units over the past four years have exerted downward pressure on rentals with a tenants’ market situation. Coupled with shrinking accommodation budgets for both expatriates and long-stay visitors, average monthly rental transaction value has declined by 17% from a high of S$4,228 in Q3 2015 to $3,508 in Q2 2019. This reflects higher demand for more affordably priced residential units for rent. Co-living operators are able to adjust their rental space offerings within their asset portfolio, either renting out individual rooms or whole apartment, according to the tenant’s budget.
2. Tenant Mobility
Along with globalisation and business unpredictability, more tenants are seeking shorter term leases due to increased mobility in work, education and lifestyle. Individual homeowners cum landlords may not have the agility and experience to respond to these needs. Co-living operators who are able to match tenants to suitable locations and accommodation preferences efficiently, provide housekeeping and prepare the rooms for the next tenant in clock-work fashion like hotels, are better poised to capture the growing group of tenants who are seeking efficiency, affordability and convenience.
One of the hurdles facing both real estate sharing platform players (e.g. Airbnb) and co-living operators is the restrictions imposed by local authorities. In recent years, Airbnb has made some progress to engage with various stakeholders to push regulations to allow short-term renting. However, obtaining the acceptance of the residents with the existence of short-term rental accommodation properties in their neighbourhood can be a challenging process. Cooperation and pro-activeness from the operators to ensure that the residents’ key concerns are addressed will build trust and acceptance of this alternative leasing.
In Singapore, the minimum three-month lease period still stays for all private residential properties. Key co-living operators such as Hmlet and CP Residences typically adhere to the minimum 3-month lease period applicable for their residential properties. Shorter-lease arrangements, such as weekly or daily periods, are only prescribed through authority approvals and/or with serviced apartment / hotel licences that are granted for specific properties.
Given a shorter minimum lease period of three months for private homes compared to HDB flats where the minimum lease period is six months, co-living concept is more appropriate for private properties due to the less stringent requirements and where privacy and communal facilities are also provided.
Outlook of Co-sharing in Real Estate
The business of co-anything in real estate is envisaged to evolve into new ways as digitalisation, increased mobility, market volatility and the pursuit of well-being propel this phenomenon. We foresee these upcoming trends, in terms of the probable degrees of actualisation (i.e. change) within the next three to five years subject to market conditions.
Infusing co-working into business strategies
Probability of Change: High
With an increasingly mobile workforce and to expand business coverage, companies are seeking to enable more connections, helping people to interact and build community beyond work meetings. Beyond its popularity among freelancers, entrepreneurs, and the tech industry, co-working is increasingly relevant for a broader range of people and organisations. In fact, co-working can become part of an enterprise’s strategy. An increasing number of companies are infusing co-working into their business strategies in two ways – firstly giving an alternative place for people to work and facilitate the birth of new ideas in a co-working space. Secondly, the enterprise can reverse-engineer its office into a co-working space, allowing all employees and possibly visitors to work in a shared space. This creates chance encounters and build new business networks.
New formats of co-sharing real estate to emerge
Probability of Change: High
In recent years, other co-share models are created to cater to the needs of different groups of people. The co-cooking business model – sharing of kitchen facilities starting with the incubator model, can be found in places such as Incubaker Café and Studio. OUE Social Kitchen was set up to support food and beverage start-ups and teams who wish to cook together to build bonds. As the labour crunch in the food and beverage industry continues to persist, new ways of optimising the food preparation process and food delivery platforms through decentralised shared kitchens could be the next wave. Co-fitness and co-wellness facilities are also emerging, offering a future source of boutique fitness and health services. A fitness and wellness community of freelance instructors and specialists who offer dedicated services in well-equipped co-share facilities can offer substantial benefits for both the service providers and customers.
Co-sharing real estate to expand in Scale
Probability of Change: Medium
As consumers are relishing the perks of sharing resources and being a part of communities, real estate players are likely to aim for scalability. A single co-sharing type, either co-working or co-living to be decked across a building, is existent for some assets in Singapore and global cities. A model of having multiple co-sharing models in a building, akin to a ‘co-anything building’, could spring forth in the future. Such a facility can be exciting for the owners, operators, users and visitors. Resources, such as digital solutions, facilities and community management, can be better optimised at greater economies of scale at a co-anything building. Additionally, some operators are moving from asset-light strategy to asset ownership, for better control of location and capacity on the supply side so as to create more demand.
Consolidation of co-working operators is plausible
Probability of Change: High
With the relentless pace of growth by major co-working players, stiff competition and reducing margins in the midst of global economic slowdown, the mergers and acquisitions of co-working operators are likely to come faster than anticipated. This could arise especially for cities with a high number of co-working locations and less healthy utilisation of desk rentals. Players that are more funded and well managed with a clear differentiation strategy and nimble business plan are better able to last through the fight for co-working market share and brand sustainability. Landlords who adopt an agile strategy to pivot between core and flex office spaces within their assets stand to gain a stronger competitive advantage to capture demand which is increasingly unpredictable.
Co-living is the next big wave
Probability of Change: High
As people seek a better place to live and connect with one another amidst the hectic lifestyle, the pursuit of being part of a community will infiltrate into the hearts of more global nomads. Co living operators who succeed in creating an enjoyable and memorable place to live for these travellers and even the locals, have the capacity to scale in terms of the number of assets and geographies. This market segment is still off the infancy stage in many Asian cities with limited established players. It is still blue skies in its nature of development, such as the precise formats of co-living for different groups of occupants. The revenue proposition is also more stable for co-living, given the higher stickiness of tenants to stay in a co-living space as the propensity to switch accommodation locations is observed to be generally lower compared to co-work and leisure locations.
Finding the Sweet Spot in Sustainability of Co-sharing
Probability of Change: Medium
While the demand for affordable spaces, flexible lease terms, physical appeal and attractive service offerings is poised to rise, operators need to achieve an equilibrium to keep the business sustainable. Deriving the optimal business model that will balance the costs of upfront capital expenditure, rental overheads and achieving downstream income from multiple sources and possibilities is critical for all operators. The strategic fund-raising arrangements, consumer data-driven model, choice of asset locations and vendors, cash flow management, resource optimisation with environmental sustainability in mind, and most importantly, the agility to pivot to sustainable business lines are some of the core ingredients to achieve the best sweet spot to sustain a co-share business model in real estate.
The Way Forward
Having illustrated the potential outcomes of co-sharing in real estate, the possibilities of ‘co-anything’ can alter the way owners, tenants and users plan and utilise real estate in future. Urban planning agencies ought to be highly cognisant of the rising phenomenon of the sharing economy. Considerations to the appropriate adjustments to land use zoning and the approved use classes for properties may have to be expedited as market forces wield influence on actual usage.