By Chris Bosak The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The concept of co-working is popular with entrepreneurs looking for creative collaboration and larger companies needing a satellite office or temporary space between moves or renovations.
The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.
Wendy Baxter is the only employee from her staffing company based in Danbury, but she is not alone when she works.
Baxter has her own office and access to conference rooms and reception services. She chats with other people in the break room while sipping coffee and a fitness center is right across the hallway. Baxter is a tenant at Regus in Lee Farm Corporate Park, one of the many co-working spaces throughout southwestern Connecticut.
"It's much better than working from home," she said. "Even though I'm working by myself, it doesn't feel like I'm alone. You get a collaborative feel here."
Co-working spaces include employees from different companies sharing office space. The workers typically have their own office and share community space and services. Some co-working spaces offer cubicles or simply space around a table or on a couch.
The concept is popular with entrepreneurs looking for creative collaboration and larger companies needing a satellite office or temporary space between moves or renovations. It is viewed as an alternative to working from home or leasing office space.
"People who have worked from home tell us they eventually need a property business address," Richard Chow, a general manager at Regus, said. "It's tough to work from home with all the distractions. People need a place to focus."
Regus, with more than 3,500 locations worldwide, has 16 spaces in Connecticut, including nine in Fairfield County. Chow said clients range from one-person businesses to Fortune 500 companies.
Entrepreneurs are using the concept to create their own co-working spaces, such as Makery Coworking in New Milford, and Comradity, Serendity Labs and Workpoint in Stamford.
Innovation centers, popular at many public libraries, also serve as co-working spaces.
Greenwich co-working space Corporate Executive Offices, or CEO, represents much of how the office market has evolved in the last decade.
Demand for shared offices grew dramatically nationally after the recession softened the real estate market, according to industry research published by Drew Jones. Commercial property owners warmed to the co-working concept once their vacancy rates soared, according to Jones, and the number of global co-working spaces grew from roughly 70 in 2009 to 10,000 by 2016.
Greenwich property owners felt the pullback in demand as much as any, said CEO owner Frank McBrearity, who also chairs the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce board of directors. During a tour of his co-working offices, he said his business has benefited from companies consequently wanting smaller footprints and shorter commitments.
Still, CEO's biggest competitor is "the poor office market," McBrearity said. "A lot of landlords have been forced to turn their spaces into short-term, shared offices."
Regus' downtown Bridgeport office opened in 2015 and its corporate-like environment has proven popular. It is located just a few blocks away from the more casual co-working space B:Hive.
"They are definitely starting to pick up because people who have had traditional offices and worried about office space costs now don't have to worry about it," Michael Snider, a sales account manager with Regus, said.
Tim Rorick, senior managing director in the Stamford office of real estate services company Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, said the co-working trend is likely to keep gaining steam.
"I expect them to become more popular over the next couple of years as companies continue to decentralize and the way people's working habits evolve," he said. "As technology advances and people become increasingly connected, they are able to work remotely and choose to work from buildings close to home. The days where employees commute to a massive corporate headquarters location and work a 9-to-5 shift are gone."
Despite luring tenants that might otherwise lease their own space in a building, Rorick said the proliferation of co-working spaces helps the overall office market both in the short term and long term. The co-working areas absorb space that might otherwise be vacant, he said.
He pointed to the former restaurant space at Stamford Marriott that had been vacant for years before Stark Office Suites moved in.
"In the long run, these temporary configurations present an opportunity for the general office market to draw potential long-term occupiers," he said. "We have seen numerous tenants who have emerged from executive suites or co-working spaces and settled into traditional leases at more traditional office spaces as their needs change."
But not all business owners choosing to utilize co-working spaces are downsizing or making an impact on the local office vacancy rate. Nick Logothetis, director of Symphony Workplaces in Westport, said the company's local office has seen a slightly different clientele than its New Jersey and Florida locations.
"There are more people working from home in Connecticut," he said. "Maybe people in Connecticut are more entrepreneurial. I don't know."
Logothetis said one common misconception about co-working spaces is that people have to get into a long-term commitment to use the spaces. "Most people don't know they can stop in occasionally," he said.
Norwalk has had two new spaces debut this year: a second SoNo Spaces co-working center on South Main Street and an executive suite created on Hoyt Street by Fischel Properties, in a building that was once the headquarters of Hotchkiss Staplers.
Those facilities join multiple others in Norwalk, including Regus at Merritt 7 Corporate Park and 40 Richards Ave.; SoNo Corporate Suites at 50 Washington St.; and 25 Van Zant St.
During a recent tour of the new SoNo Spaces, partners Karl Heine and Bob Walker said the demand was there for a second site, with the initial facility a few blocks up on North Main Street.
"Any co-working space you need a certain amount of density -- you need population and there has to be other things nearby besides the highway or rail," Walker said. "We've got food, we've got movie theaters, we've got the water. This is just a nice vibe here."