“This type of disruptive growth lines up directly with the strong desires of the employee, and the immediate transformation this pandemic brought in a workplace that was slowly heading in this direction anyhow.”
The pandemic has made clear that employees want and prefer flexibility. But after these two long years, business leaders who talk to us at Aurelius Coworks are still struggling to decide the best path to permanently adopt the workplace innovations that the pandemic ushered in.
Our coworking communities have directly benefitted from companies who let their employees work fully remote. We have more “day pass” users now than we did pre-pandemic. A small part of this is owed to the maturation of coworking in general in middle markets and marketplace education. But the influx is primarily owed to employees who have been cooped up at home. And we are seeing more employers provide a budget or reimbursement for remote employees to use a coworking space. We also had employees who moved temporarily “back home.” Many worked for some of the nation’s most known companies, and they found us because they still wanted a work environment like they were used to in major metropolitan areas. We also have more companies using our spaces to meet offsite. In particular, we recently welcomed the foundation board of a regional hospital to meet at Bull Moose Club, both because it was easier to have guests at an offsite location but also because they specifically have been trying to do more to support community-oriented and socially responsible businesses.
In truth, we “survived” the pandemic because we have a collection of companies that early adopted a hybrid office. We kept people safe, even at the highest peaks, and people kept coming to their workplace by choice. As these companies now grow, I have no doubt they will mostly stay hybrid. Some who perhaps used us to incubate at Troy Innovation Garage, now have firsthand knowledge about the benefits of flexible spaces and are more aware of the trappings of traditional leased office space and its management.
We have also welcomed companies who let their leases expire, which allowed them to gave up their offices wholly at some point in the pandemic. But now they want to have a central location semi-regularly. An example is a 30+ person team who signed on at our Westwey Club community in Providence, RI to provide a place for 10 -12 people to work at a time with access for meeting space when everyone needed to be on hand.
The thing that’s missing in all of this, especially in the 518 and middle markets like the Capital Region of New York, is scale. We have had 150+ person companies come to us and ask how we might solve their needs. The answer unfortunately is we do not have enough flexible space here. And all middle markets like Albany, NY area don’t have enough space either. We always could handle 1–15 person companies, and now we have helped companies with up to 40 employees in one market. But there is not a solution for large employers who could benefit the greatest from giving up floorspace, having a flexible work environment, and have a hybrid work model for employees.
The answer in part involves larger companies making direct investments, teaming with experienced people who have managed flexible work environments and coworking spaces, to ultimately bolster their employees and their satisfaction. We are helping the United Way of the Greater Capital Region do this for the nonprofit sector in our region and helped them to develop and launch The Blake Annex. In a few short months, 16 different nonprofit organizations call The Blake Annex home, and it’s growing each month. Beyond the real estate innovation and cost sharing, it’ll be a place where creative collisions and collaborations will occur in a sector that always needs growth and change.
The Capital Region has 200,000+/- square feet of flexible office space now. I have publicly said the region needs over 1,000,0000. In a middle market, this will require larger business to invest as I said, but also for businesses similar to ours to mature and own and convert more space in larger buildings and start to compete more directly with the traditional blue blooded real estate industry types. And the commercial real estate industry as a whole will need to accept that the world is changing — that companies can do more with less space, and that they’ll have to sometimes simply forgo traditional long-term lease arrangements that every commission and bank note is secured by.
And all of this said, this type of disruptive growth lines up directly with the strong desires of the employee, and the immediate transformation this pandemic brought in a workplace that was slowly heading in this direction anyhow.