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Sisebenza sees growth in SA’s shared office market

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 18 Jan 2021
Andrew Robinson, co-founder and executive director of Sisebenza.
Andrew Robinson, co-founder and executive director of Sisebenza.

Co-working and office-rental company Sisebenza says peer-to-peer sharing of commercial office space in SA is gaining traction, even as companies increasingly move to remote working or distributed working models, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Co-founded by businessman and former CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Bonang Mohale, Sisebenza debuted its space-as-a-service online platform SiSebenza Spaces, to help businesses and entrepreneurs find office spaces and a business community that best fits them.

Introduced in 2020, the Web-based offering has listed over 1000 spaces in SA, targeting everyone from single entrepreneurs to small start-ups and large corporates.

While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the shared spaces industry, resulting in real estate investment trusts losing more than half of their value on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2020, Sisebenza believes this is the right time for it to invest in the office rental market, as COVID-19 has fuelled increased demand for flexible office solutions in general.

The company says it has seen a consistent 100% uptake in clients and it expects to accelerate this growth-rate this year.

Andrew Robinson, co-founder and executive director of Sisebenza, told ITWeb that as local companies increasingly move to remote working or distributed working models, as a result of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, they’re downsizing, moving out of, or breaking up their existing office spaces.

This is leading to office building landlords increasingly looking to fill their open spaces, and prospective tenants similarly looking for adaptable office space options which cater to individual needs.

“The pandemic has disrupted the world of work, forever. It has shown businesses that their people can work remotely effectively and efficiently and need not return to the office full time,” notes Robinson.

“You would think that the increase in work from home and distributed workforce models would negatively impact the co-working / flexi office market, but in fact it’s doing quite the opposite – companies both large and small no longer need all the space they currently have and are also looking to de-risk their finance models from long and expensive lease commitments which weigh heavily on balance sheets.”

Shaking up SA’s co-working market

According to Robinson, before COVID-19, the global flexible, co-working and shared office market accounted for 5% of all office space, having shown 15% year-on-year growth over the past five years. The co-working and shared office market will start to exceed this number from 2021, with industry experts anticipating an annual growth rate of 21.3%.

“SA may be behind the global curve but there’s no reason that we can’t, or won’t, follow the global trend. Where we expect to see significant growth is in suburban office parks and regional offices in secondary cities.

“This is a direct result of the decentralisation of staff due to changing remote working policies which will empower staff to still go into the office, but closer to where they live. Companies no longer need big and expensive offices that have so clearly become a liability, but they need a place to gather as and when necessary, which is why flexible solutions are becoming so attractive,” he explains.

In November, Sisebenza announced a partnership with Office Hub, Australia’s proptech marketplace giant for listing and finding shared, serviced and co-working offices.

Office Hub’s tenant search platform uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to match and connect companies looking for short-term furnished space to flexi providers and private companies that have excess spaces they want to rent out.

Following the partnership, SiSebenza Spaces has now become Office Hub South Africa.

“Technology is democratising an industry previously dominated by a few large players and in so doing, is allowing the creation of more entrepreneurs, which in a stuttering economy is most needed. The benefit of a Tinder-like proptech solution for SA’s commercial property sector is that regardless of the space being marketed, there’s something for every type of tenant; from the all-in-one WeWork model, to a space-as-a-service solution which comes without the added services that may be irrelevant for some in context of the world’s new reality of work,” concludes Robinson.

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