The co-located future of the CBD

It’s been a tumultuous few years for those heavily invested in office space during the COVID-19 pandemic. While, with some thought, we could predict which businesses may benefit – toilet paper manufacturers, bottle shops, home fitness brands - most didn’t spare a thought for businesses operating in CBDs. This included co-working spaces, which were particularly exposed to the risk of a rapid deterioration in earnings, as most of our customers operate on short term lease arrangements.

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Source: Clarence Professional Offices

Despite these difficulties, at Clarence Professional Offices we saw the complete opposite and now have plans for significant growth over the next two years, based on the resilience of our business model and strong prospects in the legal and co-working sectors.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the purpose of office-based work. Could co-working spaces be the future?"

There has been a lot of debate surrounding the future of the CBD and the balance between working from home and office time. We see some clear trends in our business: there is a real need for direct interaction between co-workers, solicitors and their clients. And even between the different legal practices within Clarence’s network.

Of course, remote communications play an important role and can be efficient but legal matters are often stressful and it is often difficult to establish trust and effective communication between a client and their lawyer if the relationship is completely remote. This, coupled with the fact that legal services were considered an essential service, has resulted in our offices remaining busy throughout COVID and during the various lockdowns.

Now Clarence is experiencing a resurgence in demand from our members eager for more networking opportunities. I regularly hear people say they miss seeing people and spending real time with colleagues. This has been backed up by record attendances at our recent community and networking events.

At the same time, the business is continuing to enjoy strong occupancy levels in our three locations (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane). Given this, we are actively exploring doubling our footprint in Melbourne, followed quickly with plans to expand in Brisbane and Sydney.

Our Melbourne location has been at over 90 per cent occupancy for the last 12 months, demonstrating both the resilience of demand from the legal sector as well as increased interest in flexible office rentals. Many small businesses that need a CBD presence are seriously re-considering the traditional commercial lease model, where a tenant signs a 3-to-5-year lease, pays for the fit-out and then pays the landlord a “make good” payment at the end of the lease.

There is a clear trend that many companies will settle on a hybrid, three or four day week working from the office and home. Many business owners believe they can roster their teams and actively explore a more flexible space.

The last two years have been a real test of our business model. However, the loyalty of our members, the strength of our brand, and our staff, have allowed us to establish a strong base for future growth. 

Room to grow

With over 600 independent legal practices as clients, Clarence Professional Offices are the preferred communal, co-working locations for small legal practices (one to five solicitors) seeking a CBD presence and access to many of the collaborative benefits and services available in a large law firm.

We operate five premium CBD locations within close proximity of the legal precincts and courts in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The properties offer a comprehensive suite of private offices, virtual offices, conference and meeting rooms, all equipped with the latest video conferencing technology.

What makes Clarence different from most other co-working operators is the wide range of services tailored to the legal profession. These services include on-call paralegal support, continuing professional development training programs delivered by the leading provider in the industry College of Law, practice management software support, onsite IT and a range of special offers on storage, document management, dictation and legal software.

ANZ have been a fantastic support throughout this very uncertain time. The key for us was to regularly keep ANZ up to date with what we were doing and table any potential concerns early. They were always available and supportive. Ultimately, we didn’t have to call on too much support from them but they understood our business and its challenges.

Clarence is in a fortunate position to be planning for strong growth, having survived CBD lockdowns and significant business uncertainty.

While we are focused on legal services, the quality of our environments and the discretion of our staff has seen us attract other professional services organisations as well as a number of luxury brands. We are very excited for our future.

Tony Jansz is Director of Clarence Professional Offices

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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