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America's new workplace: An apartment building's common room

Hoping to lure residents away from coffee shops and co-working spaces, multi-family developers have been adding conference rooms and more. In the single-family space, builders have been adding more "flex" rooms.

A conference room at Hanover North Broad apartment complex, on North Broad St. The TV mounted on the wall allows for residents to conduct teleconferences.
A conference room at Hanover North Broad apartment complex, on North Broad St. The TV mounted on the wall allows for residents to conduct teleconferences.Read moreJessica Griffin

Like thousands of residents across the region, Center City resident Mike Buck strides into work every day at 8 a.m., plops himself in front of his computer, and begins his day by returning phone calls and sending emails for his job at a company located in the Pennsylvania suburbs.

From the front door of his apartment to work, it takes him — even on a bad day — less than 60 seconds to get there.

That's because while other workers are inching along the Schuylkill Expressway or waiting for a bus or train, Buck simply rides an elevator from the seventh floor, where he lives, to the fourth floor, where he works. Once off his three-story ride, Buck opens the glass-paned doors to his building's "club room," settles into a stool at the breakfast bar, and instantly connects to the room's free WiFi.

On the days that he's craving more comfort, he might opt for the plush, red couch just a few feet away. If he needs to print documents, a communal printer is there. So are a refrigerator, sink, and microwave, all available for use.

Buck, 50, is part of an ever-growing telecommuting movement. As better and faster technology has expanded to nearly all industries, employers nationwide have loosened policies that long required employees to be in the office. The result: Employees have  swapped cubicles for coffee shops, home offices, and more.

The change has become so pervasive that even real estate developers and builders are taking notice. In the last few years, higher-end developers have boosted work-from-home spaces in multifamily buildings, adding full-sized conference rooms, computer labs, and private, glass office spaces to an ever-growing list of amenities. In single-family homes, builders have been designing more "flex spaces," basically, adaptable bonus rooms that allow homeowners to alter the space — from a nursery to an office, for example — as their needs change.

For employees such as Buck, who lives at Southstar Lofts, a Carl Dranoff apartment development on South Broad Street, the plentiful amenities have meant the sales manager works in a comfortable, inviting environment — while still getting out of his apartment. For developers, it's a way to bring in more revenue. Many high-end amenities come with onetime resident fees costing hundreds of dollars at some locations. Renting out an amenity space for private use can cost even more.

"It's so much better than driving an hour and a half to start my day," said Buck, director of new business development for Corporate Interiors, a company with offices in Wayne and New Castle, Del., that develops work spaces. "I entertain clients and have co-workers on the fourth floor. I have budget-planning meetings there. … And then I've used it for cocktail receptions with clients."

"Not only does it become a convenience thing, but it's a cost-savings to me and my business," said Buck, who pays $2,300 a month for a one-bedroom unit with underground parking. "… If I had to work at a co-working space or a Starbucks, that would be awful."

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans in 2016 worked from home at least occasionally, up from 39 percent in 2012. And the survey of nearly 200,000 employees found that many more Americans want that flexibility: 51 percent said they would switch to a job that allows them to work flexible hours. Thirty-seven percent said they would switch if a job allowed them to work off-site.

"Gallup consistently has found that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in employee's decision to take or leave a job opportunity," the report said. "Employees are pushing companies to break down the long-established structures and policies that traditionally have influenced their workdays."

To be sure, not every study suggests that telecommuting is all that it is chalked up to be. While studies have indicated that employees who work remotely are 13.5 percent more productive, or that they are likely to actually work longer hours, others have found the opposite: Employees who work from home are less innovative and more isolated. Major companies such as IBM and Yahoo have pulled back on generous telecommuting policies in recent years.

Still, those in the real estate industry are betting big that the trend will continue. From high-end condos to apartment buildings targeted at millennials, multiple examples abound in Philadelphia of buildings with common work spaces.

At the Hanover North Broad development on North Broad Street, Houston-based developer Hanover devoted much of the second floor of its "West building" to communal work spaces. (The development consists of two buildings that straddle the corridor.)

Just a stairs-climb from the lobby sits a spacious, floor-to-ceiling glass conference room. A few strides away, plentiful seating dots the hallway, spilling out on balmy days onto the outdoor patio. Down the hall, a massive "resident clubhouse" is available, featuring a breakfast bar, high-top tables, and a kitchen. Even long work tables are available in the garden-style outdoor space.

It's unclear how often the spaces are used. The development's "East building," located across the street, opened its doors in February. The West building, in July. Currently, both, which are targeted toward millennials, are about 30 percent occupied.

Assistant property manager Brandon Castro said it's not uncommon to find residents camped out at the conference table during the day, hosting meetings, or using the big-screen TV for teleconferences. And many mornings, he said, residents can be found working from laptops at the breakfast bar.

"This provides them with a different atmosphere, to get them out of the apartment," Castro said. "Sometimes being in your office or in the same place can get kind of stale after a while."

According to Dranoff, it's a trend he has been noticing for the last five years. In exit surveys at his buildings, residents were constantly asking for more meeting spaces, bonus rooms, and supplies for copying and printing, he said. So far, he's brought more work spaces to his One Riverside condominium building, and multiple apartments, including Southstar Lofts, 777 S. Broad, and the Left Bank.

"We were going to big cities" and finding that residential co-working spaces were a trend, Dranoff said. Residents "need to have time away from the office. That's what people are looking for — they want balance."

That desire is not limited to multifamily space. When Michelle Gage, an interior designer who owns her own firm, was searching for a house this year, finding space for a "killer home studio" topped the Delaware County resident's list.

As a small-business owner who spends much of her time with clients, Gage said having a separate office space outside the home didn't make financial sense. But she needed a space that was "inspiring," she said, and where she could comfortably take clients without having them traipse through her house.

"I've always envisioned having a sample library, with wallpaper and fabric and everything they need to see, where I could have a bar cart with drinks and snacks," Gage said. "I want it to feel comfortable."

Finally, this year, she found exactly that: A home in Villanova with a separate staircase leading to a large, sprawling office.

"When I'm at my house, we are more productive," Gage said. "If I have to roll out of bed and go through all of the hoopla, that takes away from getting" everything done.