If you think that coworking or flex space offices — where small businesses, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers can rent a desk or a room with all the amenities of a professional office — are popping up everywhere, you’re not dreaming. The market for this type of commercial space is booming.
That’s according to a new report from commercial real estate firm CBRE. The report, released in July, says flexible space operators accounted for 13.4 million square feet, or 7.6 percent of total office footage leased in the United States, in 2018 and that the market is expected to grow to as much as 8.5 percent of leasing nationwide in 2019.
The most well-known of the coworking companies is WeWork, which is planning a public offering and has been renamed We Co. But there are many great alternatives in the Philadelphia area that offer full-time options at prices from $300 per month for a desk to around $600 per month for a private room. They include all the attributes of a typical office, such as receptionists, package drop-offs, phone and internet lines, conference rooms, and copy machines. Less expensive virtual and part-time options are also available.
“We ultimately made the choice to move to a shared workspace because we’re saving money and are in a much nicer space.” says Jill Fink, executive director of the Merchants Fund, a member of coworking space Bond Collective. Her two-person operation "had been paying for more square footage than what we were functionally using, didn’t have any amenities, and the space was uninspiring. We were able to port in our existing phone number for a very reasonable one-time fee, and between the phone and the free WiFi, we’re saving $270 a month from where we were before.” Fink also says she saves money on copying and “not having to purchase coffee and tea every day.”
The benefits of coworking go beyond cost. The Yard on South 11th Street offers its 4,000 members a free app to connect with each other, book conference rooms, manage their accounts, and reserve space in one of its 13 other locations, which include New York, Washington, and Boston. Indy Hall, at Fourth and Market, boasts more than 400 members, who are also active in their online community. Bond Collective’s space in Suburban Station has a “Zen room,” showers, and roof deck in a smaller location that’s curated “to mimic a boutique hotel lobby,” said CEO Shlomo Silber, while exuding an “interconnected feel for everyone working there.”
Yeah, this is not your grandparents' office space. It’s how many small business owners are working in 2019. But is this type of environment right for your company? That depends on two things: your culture and your attitude.
That’s because you’re not leasing space, you’re joining a community. “It’s the reason that so many people are using coworking spaces,” says the Yard’s CEO, Morris Levy. “It’s the combination of cost savings, communal energy, socializing, and the amenity benefits they provide.” Coworking spaces are not considered to be “offices” or “desks” by the people who run them, and their customers are not tenants, they’re members. Some spaces offer “virtual” memberships that include you in their community whether you set up your office there or not.
The biggest benefit is that you can ask questions, bounce around ideas, and lean on your office mates for answers to problems or just find a shoulder to cry on.
“I like being surrounded by friendly people and having the chance to take a breather from what I’m doing to say hi to someone,” says Eric Smith, a member of Indy Hall. “You don’t get that renting out a tiny office for yourself, especially when you work, well, by yourself.”
But if you’re more of a loner or prefer isolation, a coworking space may not be right for you. Coworking spaces are also very public places.
You’re sharing amenities with others, which means that everything may not be available all the time, and some conflicts over resources may occur. Your workspace, even if you rent a private office, is still part of a large, open area where people, often strangers, come in and out, talking on the phone, meeting colleagues, eating lunch at their desks, or humming to songs playing through their ear buds. Even fans like Fink admit that people who don’t respect common areas or who talk on their phones in front of someone’s open door can be disruptive.
But this is rare. For many I know, working among others provides a human connection and an energy that you can’t get working from home. Most love the public nature of the environment. More important, coworking spaces are proving to be great places for a growing company to get its start.
“Our current space works great for us, lets us grow affordably, and lets us focus on building our office and not buying furniture and equipment," says Bonnie Bogle, the chief operating officer of 3D platform provider Cesium and a member of the Yard. "In the future we want to have our own office to physically plant our roots here, but for now, it’s great to focus on all the other things we have to do. Philly is our home, and it’s where we want to grow our company. "