Houstonians work from everywhere

Texas city ranks first for flex-office growth in largest markets


Houston is not just Texas’ largest city. By many measures, it’s also the one with the most urban sprawl—which is saying a lot in a state that also contains low-density metros Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin.

That tendency to spread out all over the place could be one of the reasons Houston was the largest U.S. market to show growth in its office flex-space—also known as coworking space—for most of last year. It was also the only large city studied in a recent CBRE report to show any expansion in the flex-space sector from the fourth quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021.

CBRE reports a 5.3 percent expansion in the city during that period, with the seventh-largest flex space inventory among all the markets the company analyzed. Flex space accounted for 1.4 percent of office space in the city, which was about 3.1 million square feet at the end of the study period. It credits Dallas-founded coworking company Common Desk—the first company WeWork bought after going public late last year—for leading the charge in the Houston expansion.

The report analyzed 49 North American markets and found that 15 recorded a net expansion of flex square footage for that period, 28 showed a net contraction and six saw no change. Most of the expansion took place in secondary and satellite markets such as suburban Maryland. Houston was the largest market to post an increase.

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CBRE’s analysis of the sector found that North American flex-space square footage decreased by 9 percent, to about 80 million square feet, during the period it studied. The sector’s share of overall office space declined from 2 percent to 1.75 percent.

The analysis notes that the flex-space market changed during the pandemic, with more large companies using such space—previously the domain of startups and individuals. Large companies also are using flex space to figure out how to adapt to pandemic-driven shifts in traditional office-space use. In some cases, companies are buying or developing flex space of their own. That includes Houston, where developers including Hines and Brookfield are expanding into the flex office market with owner-operated locations.

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