Co-working’s transition to the mainstream poised to continue

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Companies considering life amid COVID-19 are still determining whether to call staff back to the office full time, adopt a hybrid model or provide more fully remote opportunities. With co-working enjoying rapid growth even before the pandemic, industry observers are casting ahead to a future where unique communal business settings continue to flourish.

Supporters regard co-working as an ideal option for a variety of flex-forward staff and businesses. A February 2019 study from the Cleveland office of Jones Lang Lasalle Inc. (JLL) — titled “Cleveland Flex Space Sector on the Rise” — stated the city had 252,107 square feet of flexible office space. Since the report’s release, Cleveland has added 35,000 square feet of co-working real estate.

“Executive office space has been around since the ’70s,” said Andrew Batson, senior vice president of research and strategy at JLL. “But with the expansion of the WeWork footprint, the industry has focused on an open floor plan, amenities and the communal aspects of the space.”

While the virus crisis stalled the market’s growth trajectory, onlookers expect co-work to rebound apace with the country’s transition to a fresh form of corporate normalcy. Batson pointed to new regional co-working concepts — such as AO in the Van Aken District and COhatch in Ohio City — as potential landing spots for businesses drawn to short-term leases with reasonable capital expenses.

“Companies are going to increase their use of flex space because of cost savings, along with an agility and speed where you can ramp up or ramp down short- to medium-term office space,” Batson said.

Pittsburgh-headquartered Beauty Shoppe opened its upscale workspace concept in Shaker Heights’ Van Aken District in January. AO’s 8,000-square-foot space includes meeting areas, 21 private and furnished offices, and a boardroom with modern AV technology.

Twenty of the 21 offices are currently filled, while a rotating hot desk option has 30 memberships. Traffic through the space is strong enough that flex memberships — intentionally pared down due to COVID concerns — will be expanded during the fall and into 2022.

Instead of catering to entrepreneurs or startups, AO centers its operations around established companies, noted partner Matthew Ciccone.

“We wanted something more elevated and geared toward the needs of mature professionals,” Ciccone said. “Not necessarily older professionals, but people further along in their professional lives. This was an intentional thing for us, because many co-working spaces are targeting a younger crowd.”

Use of the space is by monthly membership, with prices varying per accommodation. Flex users pay $300; an office runs $1,000 a month. In place of startups, AO hosts professional services such as law firms, finance concerns, venture capitalists and creative agencies. Although AO doesn’t have room for much physical growth, its leaders are pondering ways to expand a range of personal and business conveniences beyond traditional administrative assistance.

“For example, advising and providing recommendations or introductions for professional services to meet member needs,” said Ciccone. “This is one of several services we’d like to roll out, along with hosting more events and programs as circumstances with the pandemic allow.”

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