The coworking craze is coming to town on an epic scale, from WeWork’s basketball court turned offices in Buckhead to Industrious leasing the entire 11th floor of a Sandy Springs skyscraper. And it’s only the beginning.
“I think coworking space in buildings is here to stay and it’s definitely going to increase going forward,” says Scott Amoson, director of research at the Atlanta office of the real estate firm Colliers International.
Stereotyped as hipster hangouts for startup kids, the coworking model of (almost) everything-included, short-term rent in cool, hangout-friendly workspaces is proving popular among big corporations, too. It ties into national trends of smaller corporate headquarters, flexible strategies in unpredictable times, and office complexes embracing the “live-work-play” approach to attracting and pleasing tenants.
“Coworking” is a fuzzy term. Amoson boils it down to any complex that rents a short-term desk or office open to all. A bit different are “incubators” like Buckhead’s Atlanta Tech Village, which are focused on a particular industry and have a mentorship aspect. A coworking trademark is a nice building with “hot desks” for laptop use and amenities that range from free coffee to massages or, in one recent case, Mother’s Day bouquet-making classes.
The basic idea: “flexible workspace,” Amoson says. With the typical commercial lease running three years, coworking can be attractive for everything “from a one-man shop to the Coca-Colas that might need a short-term solution to something they’re working on,” he said.
The fee is more akin to a membership than a sublease, as most multi-location coworking businesses let clients use any facility.
According to Colliers’ count, there are 11 coworking businesses in or coming soon to Buckhead and seven in Perimeter Center. They’re among roughly 75 in the metro Atlanta market so far in what Amoson calls a “pretty crazy” boom time.
Cutting the commute
In Atlanta, there’s naturally a traffic angle to the craze — employees can pop into a nearby coworking space with a laptop instead of battling for hours on Ga. 400 or the Downtown Connector. That kind of satellite office use is one reason big coworking companies are creeping up from Midtown to Buckhead and now Perimeter Center, and soon outward into north Fulton and other suburban hubs.
Valerie Jaffee, Industrious’ Southeast regional manager, says her company’s real business is making “happy, productive employees,” and a shorter commute can’t hurt.
At the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, self-taxing business districts that conduct traffic and streetscape projects, Executive Director Ann Hanlon said that coworking is booming enough to factor into the group’s forthcoming master plan.
“Coworking can offer Perimeter’s commuters yet another option, in addition to traditional office space, to adapt their lifestyles to the region’s ever-changing transportation challenges,” Hanlon said in an email. “Even more, Perimeter’s coworking assets offer intown employers the opportunity to leverage an alternative work location to employees who may not always want to travel the distance intown every day.”
Landlords like it, too. Amoson says giant coworking spaces often replace traditional tenants that are downsizing. He said the deals rarely involve incentives like rent discounts or build-out costs. The coworking tenants may one day become long-term tenants of other parts of the office building. Amoson said some of the brokers at Colliers hang out at WeWork just for that possibility of finding a client ready to move into their own digs.
At Perimeter Summit in Brookhaven’s part of Perimeter Center, several long-term tenants have come from a Regus coworking space there, according to Randy Holmes, principal at Seven Oaks Company, the office complex’s master developer. Coworking’s amenities also tie into Seven Oaks’ interest in programming — like large outdoor concerts — to attract and retain tenants.
“The workforce is rapidly becoming more mobile, and it’s imperative for office owners to adapt and evolve so they don’t miss out on a fast-growing piece of the market,” says Holmes. “Prioritizing flexible workspace options and community activation that engages tenants will help build long-term asset value and ensure landlords stay relevant as our industry continues to evolve.”
Employee attraction and retention are other factors, as coworking spaces offer amenities that might appeal to younger workers without capital expenses for the company.
Back to the future of ‘executive suites’
Coworking is not an entirely new concept and in many ways the trend is going back to the future. An earlier version popular in the 1990s and early 2000s was “executive suites.” Also known as managed or serviced offices, they offered turnkey office rentals. Regus was the big player in the Atlanta market — and, after many economic twists and turns, still dominates local coworking. It operates 11 of the 20 coworking businesses that Colliers has counted in the Perimeter Center and Buckhead markets.
The term “coworking” and the idea of offbeat amenities like a Ping-Pong conference table — an actual feature at a WeWork in Buckhead — are newer. The idea of tech workers hanging out and communally working started in San Francisco in 2005, when a software coder named Brad Neuberg started an informal group at the house of a feminist collective. His Left Coast idea of community-building was quickly commercialized and subsumed into big-business coworking as we know it. That version started coming to Atlanta around 2014, Amoson says.
In some ways, coworking is shifting back to the “executive suites” model and appealing to major corporations. As Industrious comes to the 7000 Central Parkway tower in Sandy Springs for a June 11 opening, it isn’t envisioning just a group of coders on laptops.
“The assumption around the country [about coworking tenants] … is early-stage startups, young guys fresh out of college,” Jaffee says. But at Industrious, the average age of a client company is 12 years, she says. Such companies as Hyatt have used Industrious as a base for regional teams.
Industrious has even started building custom corporate headquarters. At Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, Industrious operates its standard coworking facility on the eighth floor. But they also built out the seventh floor as a serviced headquarters for the software company Pivotal, whose employees can also use the normal coworking space.
Jaffee says Industrious is also interested in taking over management and programming of all common facilities, bringing expertise in that lifestyle type of activity that the landlord might not have.
Amenity vs. annoyance
WeWork takes a different approach, emphasizing the offbeat aesthetics while diversifying into other businesses. The company has been an aggressive leader in Atlanta’s coworking market. It came to Buckhead in 2016 with an enormous, 70,000-square-foot facility in Tower Place at 3340 Peachtree Road. Another WeWork — 42,000 square feet in size — aims to open June 1 in Terminus 100 at 3280 Peachtree.
As seen at Tower Place on a recent tour, the company’s “hot desks,” the cheapest rental option that gives members access to a temporary desk, are located on a renovated basketball court. For an edgy vibe, some walls have custom-designed wallpaper featuring depictions of office workouts inspired by rap lyrics. A couch bore a pillow adorned with the phrase “thug life.”
WeWork has other types of lifestyles in mind, however, as it extends its brand in New York City and Washington, D.C., with WeLive apartments, a gym called WeRise, and a for-profit school called WeGrow. Bobby Condon, WeWork’s Southeast general manager, said that bringing such spin-offs to Atlanta is in discussion, but with no timeline.
“We truly believe we are transforming the ways people think about working,” he said. “Our mission is to create a life and not just a living.”
Coworking isn’t for everyone and one person’s amenity can be another person’s annoyance. Yet another brand coming to town in June is Serendipity Labs, which pitches itself as a more professional alternative for people who feel underserved by other coworking places. The company is opening a 26,000-square-foot space in the prominent Three Alliance Center skyscraper at 3550 Lenox Road in Buckhead.
No Ping-Pong tables shall be found at Serendipity Labs, says Paula Gomphrecht, the company’s vice president of marketing.
“These are people who don’t want to feel like they are competing for space or against noise levels,” she said. “These are people who are looking for a more professional environment. What they really want is a secure phone line.”
Amoson said the pace of coworking growth will continue — Colliers predicts coworking space will double globally by 2020 — but that eventually there will be a shakeout, with bigger companies acquiring smaller ones, and landlords cutting out the middlemen to run their own coworking spaces.
But the idea of flexible workspace has legs, he says, predicting that some element of coworking space will be a standard feature built into future office buildings.
“When the hype dies down, it’s [still] going to be a model for leasing space,” he said.
–Evelyn Andrews contributed
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Seven Oaks Company is the master developer of Perimeter Summit, not the owner.