Coworking spaces a popular and welcome growth trend in the suburban office market
The popularity and growth of coworking spaces in the suburbs may have been accelerated by COVID-19, but the trend didn't begin with the pandemic and won't end when it's in the rearview mirror, entrepreneurs behind the movement say.
A distinct growth sector of the suburban office market, coworking has become a bastion of those downsizing from corporate space, fleeing the congestion of the city, or escaping the domestic distractions of working from home.
Michael Curry, president of Studio Carney Architecture, and Ibrahim Bagasra, founder of e-commerce consulting firm Home Pick, each moved their companies to the shared 15,000 square feet of coLab at Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates.
Curry, who lives a mile away, said he was the first tenant of coLab a year and a half ago and already has smoothly transitioned to a different-sized space within it.
His first area allowed most of his employees to come in nearly every day. Now he's the only one who does, but his staff is able to use coLab's flex space and other office amenities on the days they gather.
"I love it for the simple fact that it's so close to home," Curry said. "This isn't under my children's playroom. The natural light is what sold me. In spring and summer, with the foliage in, it's beautiful. The place I was hadn't been updated since the late '90s."
Though his employees come from farther away than he does, they also appreciate the periodic breaks from working at home.
"They enjoy it as well," he said. "We all have young families."
Curry just signed a five-year lease at coLab and is looking forward to more amenities locating at Bell Works, including the forthcoming 5,743-square-foot Fairgrounds World's Fair cafe operated by Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea, which already has a smaller presence there.
Bagasra moved his firm to coLab in October. It's not only near his new home but provides a welcome change from his previous commute to the city.
"I moved here and looked around the area," he said. "It's a lot less hectic."
Amenities also were part of the appeal. When other staff members come in, he has the option of meeting in a conference room outside his office. And the Fit Lab gym downstairs is a complete rehab of the fitness space AT&T previously had when the sprawling building was its corporate headquarters.
Sean Donohue is managing director of coLab's Hoffman Estates and original Holmdel, New Jersey locations.
He said the New Jersey site opened at that Bell Works in March 2016 with 2,800 square feet. But as the popularity and future trending of coworking became clear, construction began on a 25,000-square-foot version elsewhere in the building -- just before the pandemic.
Previously, the concept had been based on a desire in the market for flexibility and a better work-life balance. But the pandemic really hit the gas pedal for coworking.
"I think we were well positioned and it helped us double down on what we were already doing," Donohue said.
Bell Works Chicagoland aimed for a 15,000-square-foot coLab from the start. But some of the adjacent amenities, like the Gather conference area or gym, might be considered to be part of the total area of other coworking facilities.
Even nearby companies with their own buildings use Gather's conference rooms and amenities, coLab Community Manager Jake Kling said.
"Gather is a great way to sum up Bell Works," Kling said. "We want to cater to the community."
Coworking doesn't require a building the size of Bell Works.
Mara Hauser, founder and CEO of 25N Coworking, has locations in suburbs including Geneva and Arlington Heights, and opened a sixth location last month in Rolling Meadows. A seventh is set to open next month near Park Ridge's city hall.
While coworking sites already make up 7% of total office space, that amount is projected to reach 30% by 2030, she said.
Hauser, whose sister firm Workplace Studio also designs coworking spaces for others, said there are five elements that define coworking: flexible desks, meeting rooms, a sense of community, a community manager, and a source for economic development.
"I think the most successful coworking spaces have all those things, but a variety of them." she said. "Many coworking spaces have their own communities. Ours are really for the people in that community."
Already in the field of designing corporate space, Hauser began closely following the emerging trend of coworking just over a decade ago.
She recognizes the pandemic as having been an accelerator of the trend but sees other reasons why it's going to continue.
"Corporations will be either losing or downsizing their spaces and looking at ways to bring people together to represent the corporate culture," she said.