What started as a niche concept with a few desks for entrepreneurs and creatives without the budget for their own office has now transformed the way we work. As a new generation of businesses emerge, many are embracing the benefits co-working spaces have to offer, and thanks to a spike in new spaces opening in the region, we are now seeing this shift in working arrangements here in North Queensland.
From established centres who’ve been fostering business success for years like Co. Habitat Co-Working Space and the Sturt Business Centre to more recently opened spaces like Regus in the Townsville CBD and the new Jungle Club on Magnetic Island – it really has become a revolution. But what benefits do co-working spaces provide and why are businesses jumping to use them?
Mark Bhardwaj, Head of International Workplace Group’s (IWG) Partnership Growth in Australia and New Zealand, says co-working spaces offer a “flexible business model” which many in North Queensland are keen to adopt post-pandemic.
“The appetite for flexible and co-working spaces was booming in Australia pre-COVID and the pandemic has only increased demand,” explains Mark.
“As an investment, co-working spaces are a tried and tested business model, promising low staffing requirements and strong customer retention rates.”
IWG’s Regus office in Townsville, which opened in June of this year, is the first of 10 ‘flexspaces’ centres to open in Queensland, with plans to extend along the coast to Cairns, Noosa, the Sunshine Coast, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Airlie Beach. Their new space, which offers conference rooms and hot-desks in addition to their offices, has seen steady growth in their first two months of operation.
Mark says the entrepreneurial nature of many businesses in Townsville has made it the ideal location to pilot their first centre, particularly since they’ve seen a mix of both local and intrastate clients taking out space.
“Within Townsville is a strong entrepreneurial spirit and we are proud to foster that spirit through this new centre,” he explains.
“Current take up has been strong in the first two months with our virtual office and membership options proving to be a strong selling point given customers have access to all Regus locations in Australia.
“This demand for flexible office space among local businesses and entrepreneurs is increasing in the regional parts of North Queensland and our employees enjoy the flexibility offered by Regus within this brand-new centre in Townsville.”
As businesses return to the workplace post-pandemic, co-working spaces are providing employees with an ideal hybrid working arrangement, which alternates between time spent in the office and time working from home. This flexibility is what owner of Co.Habitat Co-working Space, Josh Roberts has attributed to the large uptake of offices at his space.
“When I first started Co. Habitat in 2018, co-working was an entirely new concept in Townsville and it was something that had never been done before in the region,” he explains.
“Our initial key demographic was those from creative industries and sole traders who worked from home, however since this time we’ve had a heap of historically traditional ‘office based’ businesses come on board.”
Located in the former Transit Centre in South Townsville, the popularity of Co. Habitat meant Josh quickly found himself expanding 12 months later to the top floor of the building which is four times the size of his original space and now includes conference, meeting and podcast rooms. He too says the growth since COVID has been tremendous, and for a concept that was relatively unheard of when he first opened, the shift has been huge.
“COVID really pushed companies that traditionally looked for the security of long term leases towards modern flexible options,” he continues.
“The uptake over the last 12 months in particular has been remarkable, and in the first 7 months post expansion we had filled our 17 private offices, we currently have 77% occupancy rate in our semi-private offices and as our region starts to open up, we are also seeing an uptake in single and casual hot desks in the shared space.”
According to the Bureau of Statistics, in 2020, regional Queensland, in particular Townsville, saw a substantial number of moves from other states, pushing regional Queensland migration to record levels. If growth continues at this level, Josh says there is certainly the potential to expand Co. Habitat to meet increased demand for what he believes will soon be the future of workspaces.
“Townsville has a great lifestyle, it is transforming a lot lately and our current uptake is split 50% between Townsville locals and those who have moved intrastate either during or since the pandemic,” continues Josh.
“We want to grow with this demand and there is certainly the potential to consider expanding in order to do this.
“There will always be a place for traditional leases in some industries, but I think this number will decrease and based on the trends we are seeing, co-working spaces will likely soon be accepted as the new ‘normal’ working arrangement.”
According to IWG’s Workplace Happiness Report 2021:
- Seven in ten (71%) would be open to work with others in an office, co working space or other public space, in some capacity when their work home lives reset post COVID 19.
- Specifically, 40% of Australians would like to work in a co-working space post-COVID-19. This figure rises for our youngest workers (18-24) with almost half of them (48%) happy to work in co-working spaces.
By Georgie Desailly.
Photography credit: Phil Copp