Embracing the CoWorking Movement

by CoyDavidson on April 4, 2012

There is a great article I stumbled upon in Deskmag titled “Real estate agents: friends or foes?” which addresses the perception of the coworking movement among commercial real estate agents.

Commercial Real estate agents have had the reputation of shunning coworking operators based upon some fear that the movement represents a threat to the traditional office leasing profession. While there may be some of this element that exists, I think it is much more about the fact it isn’t really profitable to refer a client to a coworking operator. This perception has existed with executive suite or service office space providers for years among real estate professionals.

Living the Experience… “Sort of”

In Houston we have executive suites or serviced office space and our city essentially doesn’t have a coworking community and while there are a couple of operators in the city, these facilities pale in comparison to those in places like San Francisco or New York where this new style of work is growing in popularity. This created a challenge in my desire to get a feel for the coworking environment, so I had to improvise.

One of my objectives from a business development standpoint was to spend more time out in the marketplace. My residence is 40 miles from my office and many of the clients I serve have office space in the suburban submarket near where I live. This creates the need for frequent meetings that are not in close proximity to my office. I will often have a morning and afternoon meeting in this locale and it just doesn’t make sense from a productivity standpoint to make the 45 minute drive to my office and then turn around and come back a couple of hours later.

In the past, I would work from home between meetings and with my cell phone and Wi-Fi it isn’t really an issue to be productive. However, this wasn’t getting me out in the marketplace meeting new people. My solution was Starbucks, so with laptop, iPhone and iPad in hand I scouted the multiple Starbuck’s locations in my area for the best place to work. I selected one of the stores on NASA Parkway that sits almost directly across from Johnson Space Center near many of the office buildings in the area. This particular Starbuck’s has abundant seating including table and bench style arrangements with plenty of accessible electrical outlets.

This was clearly the best choice but it was apparent until I had worked there on several occasions. What did I discover? Well for one it wasn’t uncommon for one of my clients or someone from the business community I knew to come strolling in for a cup of coffee, often with someone I didn’t know. All of a sudden I was being introduced to new people by clients and people I knew often followed by the statement that “Coy does our real estate work or Coy is an office space expert.”

The second thing I discovered after several visits was other familiar faces working there on a regular basis, other business professionals just like me and eventually I ended up striking up conversations with some of these folks. I have also been surprised at some of the “business-Intel” I have picked up just from casually hearing conversations by obvious business people at nearby tables.

Should CRE Embrace the Coworking Experience?

I think it is a safe prediction to say that remote work will only continue to increase as office hours become less important at least for a segment of the workforce. Our clients for those of us that are that are service providers are only going to increasingly look at this option for some of their employees and for start-ups it may be an appealing alternative. Forget about the fact you will only earn a nominal commission to refer a client to coworking operator and help them keep their desks filled. This should be about providing workplace solutions for our clients and you can be there when the start-up is ready for a more traditional office environment.

I have posted in the past that we are moving to what I call a blended workforce, often called the distributed workforce. I don’t see it as a threat to the traditional office environment, it is just evolving. The enterprise will still need office space and we will still be doing our 5,000 square foot and multi-floor office lease transactions for years to come. Coworking will be a part-time solution for an only a segment of the employee base. Face-to-Face collaboration will remain essential among employee and teams, just not 100 percent of the time. I am embracing the coworking experience; I just hope it finds it way to Houston some day. In the meantime I will just be a regular extended visitor to the NASA Starbucks and since I do some work in Austin, I will be looking to get to know the operators there.

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