Office Space: In Search of its Esperanto
The British Council for Offices (BCO) has called for an international benchmark to help landlords, investors and occupiers identity and define Grade A office space in leading world cities, a move echoed in a poll of the serviced office industry via the Alliance Business Centers Network (ABCN) website, officeingtoday.com.
Within the BCO report: International Office Space ΓÇô a Tale of Six Cities, it is suggested that the need for an international standard for prime office space is driven by the current absence of fixed standards and specifications within emerging commercial property markets ΓÇô with the office markets of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia being singled out.
ΓÇ£Inconsistency in standards can negatively impact inward investment and erode rental levels and property values.ΓÇ¥ explained Gordon Carey, the principle driver behind the report and a former president of the BCO.
ΓÇ£The findings show that there is a strong case for the establishment of standards in distinct local markets. However for a number of reasons ΓÇô related to climate, culture and local market demand ΓÇô these standards should be set locally.”
The desire to introduce a rating/ ranking system for commercial office space is also supported by providers of serviced office space – which consists of property owners, landlords and commercial occupiers.
The suppliers of this increasingly popular approach to flexible workspace solutions, which research* shows has continued to grow despite the economic downturn, includes globally recognised brands such as Regus and occupy some of the worldΓÇÖs most prestigious and iconic buildings.
In an online poll carried out by officeingtoday.com, a website dedicated to providing news on the international serviced office market, 75% of those polled ΓÇ£absolutelyΓÇ¥ felt that their industry was in need of a ranking or rating system.
But given the difference in ΓÇ£standardsΓÇ¥ that are bound to appear across these vastly difference marketΓÇÖs is the ideal of agreeing a definition just that ΓÇô an ideal?
The term ΓÇ£grade A office spaceΓÇ¥ is, in my opinion, open to interpretation and of course relative ΓÇô with the reality being that the term ΓÇ£Grade AΓÇ¥ simply signifies the best office space available within a given area, with the value of the building, its location and the clients for which it is competing all being factors in the overall bearing of its ΓÇ£gradeΓÇ¥.
When considering such factors in the scope of a rating system however it can very quickly become a tricky task to ΓÇ£defineΓÇ¥ the quality of an office space in a unilateral way ΓÇô particularly so when stepping away from key, internationally focused cities.
For instance, would the most prestigious office building in Tamworth be of the same quality ΓÇô in terms of fit out and client value for instance ΓÇô as that of Central London? ΓÇô Probably not even close. But would that same office space signify the top, ΓÇ£grade AΓÇ¥ office space available within Tamworth? ΓÇô Yes.
In truth this would probably even be true when comparing the office space available within a high-ranking regional city here in the UK compared to that of Central London. If such variation and interpretation is present within a single country ΓÇô how would a unified ratings system transfer successfully to foreign markets in which such variations may be magnified further?
For commercial office space development here in the UK, it is the BCO Guide to Specification that is used as something of a ΓÇ£bibleΓÇ¥ ΓÇô setting the benchmark for specification and reportedly referred to around the world.
But the reality is that great differences currently exist in the workspace practices and ΓÇ£standardsΓÇ¥ that occur around the globe, whether this is in a serviced office in Singapore or a commercial office tenant in Bangalore.
The possibility of generating a fixed ΓÇ£standardΓÇ¥ in key cities as the BCO report suggest however is a far more attainable reality ΓÇô particularly within key locations such as Central Business Districts in commercially important international cities.
So why the desire to create an ΓÇ£EsperantoΓÇ¥ of the office world appears to exist, the reality of transferring such a system outside of a designated locality, or a group of closely linked commercial focused cities, seems unlikely ΓÇô with the existence of a standalone international tariff sitting directly above country specific guides to its general office space standards seeming far more realistic.
*Serviced Office Review: United Kingdom 2009 (officebroker.com)