Shared office spaces

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 2nd day of March, 2021.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: changing the way we work.

Even before the pandemic, remote work was trending up. Some companies early on saw technology as a way to save on expensive overhead like rent, heating and cooling, and maintenance just by allowing employees to work from home.

EICHER: That trend has given rise to another one: coworking spaces. Companies that offer coworking spaces have things remote workers can’t always get at home. Like reliable wifi, access to copiers and printers, not to mention chatter in the coffee room.

WORLD correspondent Maria Baer recently visited a coworking space in Columbus, Ohio. She brings us this report.

MARIA BAER, REPORTER: Last March, Jarrod Mobley wasn’t so much sent home by his company as he was kicked out of his home.

MOBLEY: Once the pandemic hit, it was the kids back in the house and, we don’t live in a big house.

Mobley is a sales rep for human resources software company Paylocity. And he was already working remotely. But when the lockdowns hit, his elementary schoolers—and their noisy school Zoom classes—suddenly invaded his home office. He says he tried working in his garage for a while, but it wasn’t sustainable.

MOBLEY: Paylocity actually sent out an email saying that, they were willing to help with workplace accommodations, so I immediately took advantage of that…

Now he works at COhatch. It’s a stylish, two-story brick building in the heart of Easton Town Center, a sprawling indoor-outdoor mall in a northeast Columbus suburb. While some Easton stores have closed in the last year, COhatch is one of the mall’s newest tenants.

TOUR: So this is like the main lobby area…

The front door clicks open every few minutes as customers step in, stomping snow off their boots. Some set up their computers at communal tables topped with trendy succulents. The main room is wide open, thrumming with pop music and the soft popping of coffee brewing.

The workers come from a variety of industries—real estate, travel agencies, even an architecture firm—but this is their office. It might be for the day, the week, or the foreseeable future. All for a fee, of course. COhatch’s Community Manager, Natalie Kokoska, gives the tours.

TOUR: Back here we have our kitchen, we always have coffee, tea, and water…

Lower-tier COhatch memberships offer guaranteed desk space. Members can also reserve private dedicated offices, meeting rooms; even a sound-proof podcasting booth.

Jenna Dray is COhatch’s director of corporate solutions. She says that while the remote work trend predates the pandemic, the lockdowns have presented an opportunity.

DRAY: A lot of businesses I’m talking to are wanting to do some sort of hybrid approach so that they have coworking as an option for their team and then it also allows them to come together as a team.

Dray’s position was created mid-pandemic. She sells businesses on purchasing group memberships for their employees. It’s an attractive option for companies that still haven’t brought their employees back to their own offices. One survey of over 100 major U.S. companies in December found that less than 20 percent of executives believe they’ll bring all their employees back into the office full-time.

DRAY: So there will be like large corporate companies that have a national presence but they have a division here. So why keep an office for a dozen people.

Not every coworking company has done well during the pandemic. WeWork, a national company with more than 820 locations in 120 cities, collapsed over the summer. Experts attributed their failure to a murky business plan and erratic behavior by the company’s founder. Coworking pioneer Regus filed for bankruptcy in the fall for nearly 90 locations. Most were in major U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco, where strict lockdowns and urban flight decimated their business.

COhatch founder Matt Davis says his business did take a small dip last spring.

DAVIS: We decided, instead of losing people, we just gave them free memberships for a while because some people needed to work…

But as the months wore on, COhatch started growing again. Davis credits COhatch’s strategic suburban locations and its emphasis on community involvement, including scholarshipped memberships for local nonprofits. Davis says COhatch either began construction or officially opened 11 of its now 14 locations after the pandemic hit.

DAVIS: In reality, a lot of people don’t want to work from home, or can’t work from home, so they’re allowing their employees to work from here. So we’re just starting to see that uptick quite a bit now.

Sam Koon owns a commercial real estate appraisal firm based in Columbus. He appraises real estate across the country and says teleworking—both as a trend and a pandemic necessity—means most commercial spaces are depreciating in value.

KOON: We have begun to make some downward adjustment for pandemic impact, but we don’t know what it is.

Last August, a report from Moody’s Analytics predicted nearly 20 percent of U.S. office space would stand vacant in 2021. That’s an historic high—and is projected to increase in 2022. 

The Office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost employs about 400 lawyers. Before the pandemic, they worked from leased space in multiple buildings in downtown Columbus. They’ve recently left one building altogether, and Yost says they’re still downsizing.

YOST: We’re reducing our real estate footprint by about a little over a third.

Still, Yost says his attorneys, particularly the younger ones, rely on interaction with older colleagues to hone their skills. Like many other companies, he plans to implement a hybrid work model, with teams of employees coming in and out of the office throughout the week. Essentially, the AG’s office will create its own coworking space.

YOST: We’ll be bringing teams in on certain days. But then we’ll wipe it down and tomorrow it’s going to be somebody else.

Before the pandemic, many companies were reticent to embrace remote work. It would’ve been a financial risk without the guarantee that employees could be just as productive from home. 

The pandemic removed the option to be cautious. And for many companies, it’s paid off. Yost says his employees have done remarkably well. 

So has Jarrod Mobley, the Paylocity sales rep with a COhatch membership.

MOBLEY: Since moving to the remote area, my productivity’s increased, and I’m back on track for another President’s Club, which, if I’d have stayed home, there’s no way.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Maria Baer in Columbus, Ohio.

(Photo/Maria Baer)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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