By Julia Ritchey
Savannah Morning News, Ga.
Back in the day, the corner office with L-shaped executive desk, ergonomic chair and door with name plaque may have signaled the pinnacle of office culture.
Now, in Savannah, some workers are bucking the trend and making like East Berlin in tearing down their cubicle walls altogether — or at least redefining them.
With the opening of Regus’ flexible office space in December and coworking hotspot ThincSavannah in 2010, two shared office environments downtown are catering to Savannah’s business class.
These alternative workplaces are attractive to freelancers, small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs looking to save space and money. In short: It’s all about efficiency.
“The new entrepreneurs that are surfacing are working off their laptops, working out of their home, working mobile — about a third of the workforce is moving in that direction,” said Mark Edwards, general manager of the new Regus on Bull and Broughton.
“We’ve really found that niche because we are the largest provider of that type of office.”
Regus’ entry into the Savannah market comes on the heels of its stepped up presence in Atlanta, creating what it describes as “work hubs” in strategic locations around the city, about 45 in all.
Spaces such as ThincSavannah and Regus can have a positive effect on the local economy because they serve as a type of business incubator — tenants who come in with a small presence and have the potential to grow.
“We started this because no one else did,” said Ashley Bowersox, co-founder of ThincSavannah.
“Five or six years ago everyone was saying, ‘We gotta have a business incubator,'” said Bowersox, who was in commercial real estate at the time. “I thought, ‘How can I make this work?’ And we just happened to have a building that didn’t need much work.”
Savannah’s office spaces average about $20 a square foot in the central business district, an overhead cost that may seem burdensome for new entrepreneurs. With a membership to ThincSavannah or Regus, a person can walk in and start working immediately.
“It’s turnkey. You don’t have to invest in desks, filing cabinets, telephones, getting your medical insurance for employees — you don’t even have to hire employees or a receptionist because we’re already here,” said Edwards. “You just walk in and concentrate on what you need to do: Build your business.”
Regus operates 1,700 of these business centers in 100 different countries, giving its members different levels of access based on their needs.
A basic “businessworld” membership starts at $19, just for the Savannah location, which allows use of the business lounge, a sleek refreshment bar and “thinkpods,” i.e. individual workstations. Rates are higher for national and international access to other Regus centers.
The company also offers traditional offices from $400-$2,100, which automatically gets you access to other Regus centers and offers contracts anywhere from three months up to three years.
ThincSavannah, too, has different membership levels, starting at $100, which gives you access to a workroom, wi-fi, conference space and kitchen stocked with fresh coffee from local roaster Perc.
Its permanent offices run between $525-$1,200. Visitors on business can drop by for the day and use the facility for $25.
Less space, more room for ideas
The trend toward smaller workspaces isn’t unique to just shared or flexible office spaces. More traditional employers have been cutting back as well.
“The market is trending toward less square footage per employee,” said David Sink with Colliers International, which leases commercial office space in the Realty Building on Drayton Street.
According to CoreNet’s Global Corporate Real Estate Survey, the average amount of space per office worker shrank from 225 square feet in 2010 to 150 in 2013, and many employers expect it to continue to decrease.
“It’s technology that allows you to operate in a space that’s smaller and more compact,” Sink said. “I’m a Generation X, not a millennial, but I get it. People do want to be more social where they work.”
The desire for collaboration and networking initially attracted Adam Singer to ThincSavannah. Singer runs an Internet marketing business, AJ Singer Studios, from one of the custom wooden workspaces in ThincSavannah. He had used a free office in an empty school building, but wasn’t satisfied.
“I wasn’t growing the way I wanted to, and I was in a phone call with a friend and mentor who said I should be looking for people in the same field that I could somehow work with,” said Singer. “I had come to ThincSavannah for an event earlier, and it struck me as the place to be to do that.”
In one instance, Singer said, he met a person temporarily renting space there to work on former mayoral candidate Jeff Felser’s website. Impressed with the interface, he asked questions about how the site was built and learned some new tricks.
“Both the way he had done that website and the graphics person who helped him inspired me a lot. It gave me information that was very useful to me in how I conduct my business,” said Singer, who mentioned he had looked into office space at the new Regus out of curiosity but decided to stay put.
Bowersox says the networking opportunities in these spaces are invaluable.
“You don’t get that from a coffee shop, you don’t get that working from home, you don’t get that even in a traditional office,” said Bowersox. “But here it’s not only accepted, it’s expected, because we all want each other to do well.”
Since it opened last month, Regus has rented about a dozen of its 43 offices, and Edwards said Regus probably isn’t done with the Savannah market.
If all goes well, they will take over the third and fourth floors of their current building and maybe in a year or so look at Pooler for another location.
For more information on Regus and ThincSavannah, visit www.regus.com and www.thincsavannah.com.