4 sectors drive demand for flexible work spaces in PH during pandemic

Demand for flexible work space in the Philippines is driven by business services, finance, pharmaceuticals, and technology, as more companies implement flexibility measures and explore opportunities for expansion in the country and in the Southeast Asia region.

Balder Tol, general manager for Australia and Southeast Asia of WeWork, one of the global flexible work space providers, said in an email interview that the Philippines is one of its key markets in Southeast Asia where demand continues to grow despite the pandemic.

According to Tol, WeWork’s growth in the country is supported by three key sectors: business services, finance and pharmaceuticals. Technology is another sector fast gaining traction, up 9 percent from last year. 

“The interest is driven by enterprises looking to expand in the Philippines, often with plans to scale and expand across several other markets in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Tol noted that the Philippines is a growing economy, with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) serving as the driving force for the market’s economic growth, as well as continued interest from large global MNCs.

The growth is also supported by its 10 percent growth in WeWork’s enterprise membership across Southeast Asia as business leaders emphasize for a flexible real estate strategy to steer and support their growth. 

Globally, Tol said that more than 50 percent of WeWork’s members have commitments longer than 12 months, contributing to an average full commitment term of over 15 months.

As a result, Tol said its global occupancy continues to trend upwards at 53 percent as of the end of May  with April and May as the company’s strongest two months in sales momentum since September 2019.

“We have returned to pre-pandemic performance, with April and May marking WeWork’s strongest two months of net desk sales since September 2019. We also recorded positive net desk sales in all consolidated regions, demonstrating the global nature of recovery and accelerating demand for WeWork’s hybrid solutions,” said Tol.

Tol explained that the rise of “third place” is a recognition of flexibility, beyond the standard 9-5 cubicle  setting.

“It’s great that people are now slowly accepting the concept of ‘third place’ as an alternative to work and do business,” Tol added.

During this pandemic, Tol said that the health and safety of its members are its top priority as the company implements strictly the minimum public health standards in all their locations. WeWork was even awarded a Global Certificate of Conformity for its health and safety enhancements from Bureau Veritas - an internationally recognized testing inspection and certification organization.

It is unfortunate, he said, that the emergence of new variants and the realities of open borders have led to the resurgence of new cases in the Philippines. “This turn of events is a reminder that we are dealing with an evolving situation, one that we have to prepare for and embrace periodic measures and lockdowns,” he said.

When COVID-19 first hit, Tol said there was a small impact on workspace needs as companies turned to work from home arrangements. However, he noted that many companies soon realized that WFH was not going to be a sustainable operational model and took on a more proactive discussion and approach to explore flexible workplace strategies.

Given the ongoing economic uncertainties, Tol said that companies are scaling in a much more conservative manner. In the face of uncertainties, he said, flexibility becomes a strategic asset like opting for flexible work space arrangements.

“I am very inspired by the creativity of the WeWork Philippines’s community team, in driving engagements with members in view of social distancing e.g. thought leadership webinars on post pandemic recovery insights to fundraising initiatives for the underprivileged communities,” he said.

“The development of flexible workspace will have to change and now more than ever, it should be able to empower companies with the agility and adaptability to address the pandemic and future-proof their operations.”

In response to growing demand from enterprises that require the space to scale and mobilize their workforce, Tol said that WeWork has also been adapting its offerings for swing spaces or short to long term solutions to be integrated into enterprises’ real estate portfolio.  

This is also driven by the COVID-19 situation’s heightened emphasis on future-proofing companies’ operational efficiency as part of their BCP approach.  Conversations with members and non-members have also elevated to the discussion of a longer-term and more comprehensive future-proofing business strategy as opposed to just a one-off reaction to the COVID-19 situation.  As the Philippines continues to gain interest and traction with direct investments and regional expansion, Tol said companies will need to prioritize an agile and nimble business model to address the opportunities and challenges.