CEO News

Firms Turning to Serviced Offices as Outplacement Centres

SERVICED offices are being turned into career counseling and outplacement centers these days as more employees are being affected by restructuring activities brought on by the recession.

At the least two of the bigger serviced office operators in Singapore have reported taking on such clients, while others have received similar enquires.

Industry insiders say this is a trend not noted in previous recessions, partly because serviced offices were not as commonplace. They add that more such deals are expected in the wake of retrenchment in the banking sector.

A serviced office operator said “Those who would take up space in the serviced offices for such purposes, through outplacement firms, consultant or themselves, are more often than not big firms who have an image to protect.

These companies would also be the ones to have enough resources for such activities, which is actually, quite a humane way of parting with employees.”

Recently, international recruitment agency Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH) took up 85 workstations in the Regus Business Centre for a four month period. Located in Centennial Tower, this space is being used to provide consultancy and counseling services to staff affected by retrenchments. Sources said LHH was involved in helping to outplace and counsel employees affected by restructuring activities at Hewlett Packard last year.

UK-based Regus occupies some 86,000 sq ft of space in Singapore, including an estimated 750 workstations.
Regus area director Marc Townsend told BT that the firm’s business has recently come from two areas – recruitment agencies and white collar start-ups founded by those retrenched.

“Recruitment agencies have really come onto the serviced office market in Singapore only since Q4 last year,” said Mr. Townsend. “In recessionary times, it does seem that there will be such companies coming in to take up space.”
He added that the start-ups lease space manly for three to six months, while occupancy of its serviced offices as Regus has been flat for Singapore. No numbers were disclosed.

Sydney-based serviced office operator Servcorp, which claims to be the first to introduce serviced offices here in the mid-80s, noted as well that outplacement firms have been booking up space since last year. Occupancy level for the firm is understood to be maintained at 80 per cent even after the September 11 attacks.

“We have had outplacement firms as long-term clients and there has been an emerging trend in new ones coming in on some medium-term leases of six months and above,” said the firm in response to BT queries.

Servcorp, with offices in Hong Leong Building, 6 Battery Rd, and Suntec City, did not reveal further figures.

Consultants estimate Servcorp’s total space at about 33,000 sq ft, with the firm stressing that it does not lease space based on area figures.

FPD Savills statistics showed that average occupancy of serviced offices had slid from over 90 per cent before the 1998 economy downturn to the current 70 per cent.

This is attributed to both the presence of fitted offices as well as new serviced office operators.

Meanwhile, both MR Centre and CEO Suite reported enquiries from firms about taking up space for outplacement and counseling services, though no deal has been inked yet.

CEO Suite is a new entrant to the Singapore serviced office scene, having opened in March1. It occupies a floor at Singapore Land Tower and has over 100 workstations.

A spokeswomen said: “This trend of firms looking for outplacement and counseling space use surfaced last year and there have been substantial enquiries.”

A MR Centre spokeswoman underlined this sentiment, adding that the firm’s occupancy rate was at 100 per cent before Sept 11 terrorist attacks. It is now at the “comfortable”, undisclosed level.

Since September, services offices have seen an increase in shorter-term renewals of six to eight months as well as renewals on a monthly basis, said FPD Savills. A typical averages lease period is 10 to 12 months