How the Australian co-working industry has changed in ten years

10 years since Hub Australia opened its first location, a 200 square metre space on Melbourne’s Bourke Street, with four staff and 70 members, it’s now grown to five cities across Australia, a team of 80 full-time staff, and thousands of members.

Changes to the workplace, focus on customer service and quality spaces means that Hub expects its membership and locations to double in the next 12 months.

As one of the first coworking spaces in Australia, we have seen the industry change significantly over the past decade, slowly in some aspects and rapidly in others, such as the changes that occurred as a result of COVID-19.

During this time, there have been a number of big trends and pivots within the co working industry that have come to the forefront, changing the way businesses and employees utilise co working and office spaces.

A focus on experience

Organisations have chosen to base themselves at Hub because it helps their teams love where they work, and consequently helped them to attract and retain the best talent.

COVID-19 drove home the value of the office for organisations, not just to the productivity of the company, but also to the happiness and wellness of their team.

Whilst building community was sufficient in the early years of coworking, Hub and many in the industry have worked hard to significantly raise the level of their offerings so companies can add value for their staff and business.

Whilst often cited as the weakness in the co working business model, the flexible terms co working operators provide, if managed well, are a strength and have given businesses like Hub the advantage of a laser-sharp focus on creating a customer experience.

Traditional leases and high CAPEX have meant that landlords, commercial real estate (CRE) and corporations have not needed to innovate and listen to their customers at the same rate the flexible office industry has.

Landlords and CRE are increasingly looking to co working and flex as part of their buildings to retain tenants by optimising the experience of all those that use the office and retail amenity.

Operating flexible workspace at scale is complex and means that many landlords and CRE operators are looking to partner with operators rather than go it alone and try to catch-up.

Focus on customers and market position at the premium end means that Hub now identifies as a hospitality company whose mission is to create workspaces that people love.

Co working & workspace-as-a-service is for businesses of all sizes

Many coworking spaces were originally designed to meet the needs of freelancers, start-ups, and small businesses. These individuals and businesses needed flexibility, an escape from the isolation of working from home and couldn’t afford a CBD office.

Many members at Hub were team members of companies and not founders or freelancers requiring a cheap desk and a co working community more than the team of an organisation that had colleagues and needed a professional and exciting environment to get work done.

Over time, this meant coworking evolved to cater to the needs of larger teams and in many cases provided a better experience for those larger teams than they had in their own traditionally-leased office with high CAPEX and inflexible terms.

Just as companies now procure IT as a service (software, cloud storage, etc) rather than invest large amounts of CAPEX and resources into infrastructure, it now makes financial sense for companies to have some or all of their workspace procured as a service.

The 5 to 10-year traditional lease has been writ large by COVID-19 as simply not matching the constant disruption of operating business in the ’20s.

More than just financial sense, in the war for talent your office is a tool for attracting and retaining the best talent and it’s easier to leave this to a specialist rather than trying to figure out in-house how to build and operate an amazing workspace.

The rise of the hybrid working model

Hybrid working is the obvious notion of letting your team work from distributed locations in a way that is most productive for them and the company.

When we started Hub, we were calling it ‘anywhere working’ and using the line “work how you want, when you want, and where you want“. Of course, this wasn’t really possible unless you were a freelancing digital nomad.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has caught up, and whatever your view on the importance of the office, we know that a lot of the work previously being done in the CBD office can be completed elsewhere.

Working from home doesn’t work all the time. 2020 resulted in high rates of burnout amongst Australians, showcasing the importance of office time alongside days spent at home.

As a result, many business professionals aim to continue to work from home 1-2 days a week, while working in the office for the remaining days to spend time with their teams.

This has impacted the type of office space needed by many businesses, with larger companies now exploring smaller, flexible workspaces as an alternative to traditional long-term leases in larger CBD corporate headquarters.

Many companies are also exploring a ‘hub and spoke’ model where satellite offices in key activity centres enable staff to Work Near Home (WNH) so they can escape the distractions of working from home but avoid the commute when they need to be at a CBD headquarters.

Whatever version of hybrid working works best for companies and their teams, expect questions about options to work flexibly in every job interview and annual review this year. If your company does not have a good answer, the best talent will go somewhere that does.

A greater emphasis on amenity and staff learning and wellness

Co working has always been recognised for providing a more holistic service to teams, with a strong focus on community, learning and perks for all members.

10 years ago, co working was an emerging industry with basic amenities and little resources. The tables are long gone from Hub and in their place is high-end furniture, fitness studios, relaxation spaces, podcasting equipment, fully-equipped kitchens and full-service café’s.

This offers time-saving assets that add to the workday experience and creates a positive, friendly workplace culture for their employees. Community lunch events have now made way for a full suite of in-person and online learning and wellness programming.

Without a doubt, coworking has had a huge impact on workplace standards over the last ten years, and I strongly believe it’s impact will be even bigger over the next ten as flexible workspace becomes part of every company’s workplace plans.

Whilst we are a business that has to maintain a business model that keeps it successful and growing, I’m also proud of the things that we’ve been able to hold on to.

Across the world, quality operators, premium or not, put the customer and their members at the heart of what they do creating happier people and companies at work.

I still love that first moment of walking into Hub in the morning and being welcomed, the buzz of the café to start the day and the ability to choose where and how I work.


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