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Whatʼs old is new again in shared economy of the office world

By Melanie Gladwell, senior vice president, Servcorp New York

In this day and age, where flexibility and accessibility are highly valued, our society has moved – rather quickly – to what we know as “the sharing economy”.

Recently, we have been witness to the dramatic and seemingly overnight rise of companies such as Uber, AirBnB and Rent the Runway, which help us live better and experience more in ways we never knew were possible before.

Long before those companies were even gleams in the eyes of their founders, there were virtual offices and office-sharing – the grandfathers of today’s sharing economy.

In 1978, realizing the growing trend in business to move away from traditional – and permanent – brick and mortar offices to more flexible environments, an ever-prescient Australian businessman named Alf Moufarrige had the foresight to found Servcorp, the global leader in the serviced and virtual office industry.

Servcorp COO Marcus Moufarrige at 1 WTC where the firm rents offices for $1,000 a month
Servcorp COO Marcus Moufarrige at 1 WTC where the firm rents offices for $1,000 a month

Today, Servcorp operates in nearly 150 locations worldwide. In 2010, Servcorp expanded into the United States, and has been providing access to the best facilities and technology in some of the most iconic locations in the greatest cities around the world, including in New York City, where we made the 85th Floor of One World Trade Center our newest home.

While “coworking” has become a popular buzzword in the past few years, we have been at the forefront for decades – providing this office solution for almost 40 years.

Although very few of these ideas are actually new, millennials have become the spokespeople for renting experiences and having access and flexibility through a sort of membership – rejuvenating the concept.

Years ago, this trend surfaced through apartment renting, car leasing, shift-sharing, co-ops, community pools, etc. and it was widely accepted and almost preferred.

Then a major shift took place and to buy and own became a symbol of status. If you have money, you buy it to own it – anything less indicated you haven’t made it yet.

But now, the economy is back to accepting that renting, leasing, and sharing gains experience and access that may otherwise be unattainable – e.g. renting an office through a service contract at One World Trade Center on the 85th floor for less than $1,000 a month.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “access is the new ownership”.

With the new wave of the workforce coming in, experiences are rated higher over ownership, which aptly describes how to operate out of an office with five-star service at a globally recognized address through a service agreement rather than a binding lease.

This was the vision of Servcorp’s founder and, almost four decades later, it’s still the guiding principal which drives the company.

The shared serviced and virtual office was born out of a need for office space and office solutions with low financial risk and minimal commitment. Not everyone or every company can – or wants to – enter into a traditional office lease that will span perhaps 10+ years and require a significant capital investment.

Traditional office space most definitely still has its place in the market, but people are increasingly drawn to access and experience and the option to change their view at the drop of a hat.

No matter the size of a company – whether it’s an entrepreneur, a start-up, or a multi-national breaking into a market – the appeal of shared economy applied to office space is not lost.

Misconception dictates this means one can’t afford to take traditional office space, when in reality workplace trends are ever-changing and the mindset is “let me test it so I can figure out what will really benefit and grow the business”.

So, for now, the ways of the “old days” are in and participating in the shared economy of office space is not only an increasingly viable and attractive option for almost any company, it’s a rather savvy business move.

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