WeWork, other co-working spaces spreading rapidly in Canada

Reflects new tech, changing demographics, push for innovation: expert
By Natalie Wong
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 10/07/2019
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A communal area at a WeWork location in Toronto. Staff

(Bloomberg) — WeWork may be facing challenges on multiple fronts but a new report shows the co-working model the company popularized is taking off in Canada.

Flexible offices spaces are projected to reach more than 6.1 million square feet by the end of the year, up about 300 per cent from 2014, according to a report by CBRE Canada. An additional 1.3 million square feet is on the way with the bulk in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

“We haven’t seen a new type of office tenant emerge with such speed and dominance since the dot-com boom,” CBRE Canada vice-chairman Paul Morassutti said in the report. “The rise of flexible office operators reflects the pace at which work and the workplace are evolving along with new technology, changing demographics and an overall push for innovation.”

Large companies like WeWork, officially known as We Co., and IWG are leading the charge, catering to demand from entrepreneurs, small businesses and companies looking for flexible leases and millennial-friendly office designs. Office vacancy rates in downtown Toronto fell to a record low 2.3 per cent in the third quarter, the tightest office market in North America.

CBRE is tracking 10 flexible space operators which represent 71 per cent of the market. IWG’s Space unit is the largest with 32 per cent of the market, followed by WeWork. Notable co-working deals include 171,000 square feet leased to WeWork in BentallGreenOak’s new Vancouver development and Spaces which has 260,000 square feet in two Toronto locations.

Flexible offices make up only 1.4 per cent of the 471.1 million square feet of office space nationwide, lagging the U.S., according to CBRE.

While WeWork has been rapidly expanding in Canada, the New York-based company is facing challenges on multiple fronts. It’s scrapped an initial public offering, stoking concerns about its ability to raise money to fuel growth, and its chief executive officer has stepped down. Landlords in London and New York are among the most exposed to any further deterioration at the co-working firm, but in Canada, they’re less worried.

“Any of the spaces that we’re leasing are very much in demand, so we would lease to other tenants if there was a problem with WeWork,” Michael Cooper, CEO of Dream Office REIT, said in a phone interview. “WeWork has been a real leader in this field and it’s going to matter what happens with them, but there are other co-working organizations who I don’t think this will affect.”

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