A short walk from the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen Nature Reserve in Ghent, you will find a quiet little street- Vlasgaardstraat. Nestled at number 52 there, among nondescript two-story buildings, is one of Belgium’s thriving coworking spaces, the Watt Factory. Every morning, dozens of freelancers and startup employees walk in and start their workday. They chat with their overseas clients, solve marketing conundrums, tinker with IoT technologies, and provide sophisticated software solutions to hundreds of businesses worldwide, giving coworking in Belgium a good name and putting it on the map of Europe.
“But, just looking at the building, you would never guess that.”
Doing business in 2021 is vastly different from doing business 10 years ago. Coworking spaces are cropping up like mushrooms after a good rain because new businesses – and people employed by them – need cost-effectiveness and an inspiring environment but, above all else, they need flexibility and focus. Coworking spaces offer both in abundance – an opportunity to come in when you need to, leaving the day-to-day office management chores to others.
London and Berlin are perhaps the biggest players on the European market, but how do coworking spaces in Belgium compare? Are we simply following trends or are we endeavoring to be the trail-blazers? To answer that question, we first need to understand the benefits of coworking spaces, as well as what motivates businesses to take that route.
Business Centers or Coworking Spaces?
It’s tough to draw a solid defining line between coworking spaces and serviced offices, especially these days when corporate real estate companies are really vying to be as flexible as their business models allow.
Still, certain distinctions between the two do exist. The first official coworking space in the world – Citizen Space, San Francisco – opened its doors in 2006, fostering mutual cooperation between occupants by knocking down barriers (and walls). The true spirit of coworking was born there, and it has persisted to this day.
The benefits of coworking spaces can be easily pinpointed:
- Flexibility – you want to be able to show up at noon and stay until 10 PM or even midnight? Most coworking spaces offer that option. Actually, they offer a lot of options when it comes to occupancy, equipment use, and so on – you book what you need when you need it, and that’s that.
- Cost minimization – maintenance and cleaning are no longer your issues. Neither are utilities, overhead costs, and other stuff you would pay for if you owned your own work space. If you need a conference room and a projector for two hours, then that’s what book and pay. Mostly, you’ll be paying for a desk or a few desks, depending on whether you’re a freelancer or a small company.
- Innovation and collaboration – by far the biggest benefit of coworking lies in the fact that it encourages both innovation and collaboration. Occupants constantly mingle, forging connections that benefit them and their businesses. Coworking spaces can be a great source of talent as well, which is why some large companies offer free office space to young startups and entrepreneurs (of course, looking to benefit from that).
Still, coworking spaces might not fit your bill and that’s perfectly fine. They are great for freelancers, startups, and bootstrapping entrepreneurs, but what if you’re an established company, or if you’re looking to grow your brand? In that case, business centers with serviced offices make more sense. You still get a degree of flexibility, but you also get your company logo on the door, access to multi-city offices operated and managed by the same company, the value of a High Street address, and so on. Needless to say, you’ll pay more for that, but it might be worth it, depending on your circumstances.
Both options have their merits. Still, it’s important to note that, while the occupancy rate of coworking spaces is trending up, business centers have seen a steady decline in the last few years, according to Statista’s data on Regus (a large corporate real estate management company).
Coworking’s Global Popularity
Compared to 2015, the number of coworking spaces globally nearly doubled in 2017, going from 8,500 to 15,500. The number of members more than doubled, though, growing from 545,000 in 2015 to 1,270,000 in 2017.
According to a Deskmag survey, that growth continued exponentially in 2018 and 2019. There were nearly 22,000 coworking spaces at the end of 2019, with around 2,2 million people working at them.
In 2017, the trimmed mean average (excluding top and bottom 5% of the results) of a number of members in a coworking space is 74. In 2019 that number rose to a respectable 90.
Coworking Spaces & Business Centers in Belgium – 300 and Counting, With More Than 15,000 Estimated Users
At the end of 2017, coworking spaces made up around 6% of the total office market in Belgium.
Interestingly, more than 300 new ‘flexible offices’ opened in Belgium in 2016. These are not the same as coworking spaces (in terms of cost and flexibility), but this signals a significant shift in how businesses choose to operate.
Do we have any exact numbers when it comes to coworking spaces in Belgium?
That’s difficult to estimate as there’s little data currently available. Coworker.com (an online directory of coworking spaces) shows 51 open plan and 24 private offices registered in its network. A lot of them are located in Brussels and Antwerp. However, these numbers looked fishy to us, so we took a closer look at Antwerp. Coworker.com lists only seven coworking spaces there, and Kubric (a coworking office that we know is pretty lively since our HQ is close to it) is not among them.
A closer inspection of Google maps revealed at least 15 coworking spaces in center of Antwerp alone (see the screenshot) that are currently operational, Not to be lazy, we picked up the phone and confirmed this, so we know it for a fact. In addition to that, we are aware of at least that many more shared offices that can’t be found either on Coworker.com or through Google Maps.
With around a 100 more true coworking spaces in Brussels and Ghent (and at least that many in other Belgian cities), plus around 100 shared office spaces sprinkled in for good measure, we can confidently say that coworking in Belgium is on pretty solid grounds. If we take a conservative number of at least 50 members per space, we’re looking at an approximately 15,000 users strong coworking community in Belgium.
That’s still a far cry from the Europe’s leading coworking center, London, where shared spaces account for 7.5% of the market. In the US, their total number will be around 4,500 in 2018. We can expect Belgium to grow in that respect, but its growth will definitely be overshadowed by China and other APAC markets, who will be rapidly catching up to mature markets in the next 5 years. In cities like Manila, Singapore, Shanghai, Delhi and Mumbai (and other APAC centers), flexible workspaces take up around 6.5% of the market on average – a big percentage that can be attributed to the fact that large occupiers there (usually internationals with a strong presence) prefer sharing to owning. Places like Beijing are currently exploding, with 900 flexible workspaces and counting, with Shanghai and Hong Kong following close behind.
The Future of Coworking
Slowly, but surely, businesses across the world (including Belgium) are moving away from traditional corporate offices and partaking in the sharing economy. This includes a radical makeover of how they look at a typical workday of employees so we can expect coworking spaces and shared offices to cautiously grow in numbers.
By 2022, a projected 30,000 coworking spaces will be operational worldwide (16% annual growth rate), and they will be the home away from home to some 5 million users (24% annual growth rate. Large corporations will contribute to this trend by embracing coworking and opening some of their facilities and resources to the public in the hopes of attracting talent and innovation.
Of course, this extra flexibility for users means that office managers will need to pick up the slack, working around the clock to ensure non-conflicting schedules and access. ZapFloorHQ’s innovative space management solution can help with that. Are you a f space owner, shared office floor manager, or a frustrated freelancer who thinks scheduling and invoicing could both be done better and faster? In that case, check out ZapFloorHQ and start operating at peak efficiency.