As the number of startup incubators and accelerators has continued to climb, so, too, has demand for flexible workspaces that cater to early-stage companies with big ideas and small budgets. For many, a shared office is a logical "next step" after graduating from an incubator environment, allowing them to enjoy many of the same benefits - state-of-the-art amenities, networking opportunities and a downtown address - at a price they can afford.
Yet startups account for only a portion of shared office users, with everyone from freelancers to national and international companies utilizing these spaces to reduce overhead while growing their respective businesses.
Just as there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to office design, there's no single user for the shared office environment. Many people, regardless of their profession, want the social benefits of an open coworking space while maintaining some level of privacy and professionalism.
The majority of shared office users fall into one of four categories, each of which benefits from the collaborative work environment in different ways:
Freelancers - Freelancers may be on a first-name basis with their local barista, but that hasn't kept them from exploring more professional alternatives to their local coffee shop, where everything from noisy espresso machines to a shoddy internet connection threaten to undermine productivity. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the shared office environment is the built-in professional network, which can lead to new business opportunities, whether it's a fellow freelancer who needs assistance with a one-off project, or an established company looking for a part-time copywriter. Most shared office providers also host regular networking events for their clients, giving freelancers yet another opportunity to mingle with their peers and, ideally, secure new business.
Professional Service Providers - For attorneys, accountants and other professionals who deal with sensitive information on a regular basis, an open coworking space presents a laundry list of concerns relating to privacy and security. Yet conventional space is often unaffordable, especially for single-person entities that want a presence in a city's central business district. If a lawyer is starting their own practice, a shared office gives them the resources they need to get their firm up and running, including support staff that can answer calls, assist with mail, and handle other administrative functions that would ordinarily fall on the business owner. These professionals not only benefit from having a reputable address, but also a fully equipped office with numerous areas for private, one-on-one meetings with clients.
Startups - While it's true startups aren't the only type of shared office user, there's a reason they're frequently associated with these non-traditional workspaces. Aside from their networking opportunities and relative affordability, shared offices provide something else entrepreneurs value: flexibility. When starting a new business, entrepreneurs face a lot of uncertainty, which can make it difficult for them to know how many employees they'll hire, how much space they'll need, and how quickly they'll expand. At a shared office center, they can easily add space - or reduce their footprint, if necessary - without having to pack up their entire business and move to a new location.
National & International Companies - Large corporations typically have hundreds or thousands of employees, but that doesn't mean they're too big to benefit from a shared office. If a company is looking to break into a new market, a shared office allows them to test a particular location without committing to a traditional lease. They're also convenient for short-term projects where employees will only be in a city for a few weeks or months. This allows national and international companies to save money not only on rent, but also on staffing because they don't have to hire their own receptionist and janitorial staff. If a market takes off, it's easy for businesses to expand. If not, they can simply pull the plug and reallocate their resources to new opportunities.
Frank Chalupa is president and co-founder of Amata Office Solutions, a Chicago-based real estate provider specializing in office solutions for companies requiring up to 10,000 square feet of office space.