Trendy, Functional ‘Flexible Office Spaces’ Are Taking Off
Originally published in The New York Post
Flexible office space, once a niche offering, is experiencing a meteoric rise. In the last decade, so-called “flex space” increased more than 600 percent across the United States.
Just in the last year, the market grew 23 percent in Manhattan alone, according to CBRE. While most people associate coworking with a flexible office, that’s just one type of company that takes advantage of its perks.
The term “flexible” applies to both the lease agreement and the design of the space. Unlike traditional commercial leases, which lock tenants in for five to 10 years, flex leases tend to be shorter and open to change. Flex lease spaces are also made to accommodate different activities and work types, and can be built out and adapted as a company expands.
According to Thais Galli, managing director of innovation at Tishman Speyer, the increased demand is partly due to younger employees who expect more from their offices.
“We noticed a shift in generations and the type of employees our clients have,” says Galli. “We saw a growing demand for spaces that are exciting, beautifully designed, have more amenities — like what the Googles and Facebooks of the world are able to offer.”
Here’s a look at how four savvy flex office operators are tackling the Manhattan market right now.
International Workplace Group has been offering agile office space for more than 30 years. Today, they have five different brands, including Spaces, a Netherlands-originated company acquired by IWG five years ago. The acquisition was in response to existing customer demand for offices with “a different look and feel,” says Michael Berretta, vice president of network development at IWG. “They wanted something that was a more contemporary design, with a focus on coworking.”
Given its origins, Spaces has a European aesthetic — white, minimalist and fairly Scandinavian. A new three-floor office with 1,200 workspaces that opened in the Chrysler Building this July features separate wings for private offices and communal areas. There’s a sun-soaked coworking zone that doubles as an event space, and custom-built cubby booths for semi-private meetings.
Most pieces are custom products manufactured by modern furniture master Herman Miller. Common areas have concrete floors and raw ceilings, while offices skew traditional, with drop-down ceilings and carpet for better acoustics.
Haven’t heard of Knotel? That’s partially the marketing strategy of the 3-year-old company, which sets itself apart from competitors by focusing on creating bespoke spaces for individual companies. Knotel’s brand name is nowhere to be found in its projects.
“All of our build-outs are informed by workplace strategy,” says Knotel founder Amol Sarva, who employs an in-house team of architects and interior designers who deliver custom results. For advertising agency Good Apple, this meant creating a space for 80 employees that spoke to the company’s team-focused culture. In Good Apple’s new 14,500-square-foot office space in Union Square, the brand is front and center with a neon logo on a green wall behind reception and a gallery wall of employee portraits.
Communal architectural features like bleacher seating provide a place for casual gathering and company-wide meetings, while a library at the back of the office and a meditation room let employees retreat. Glass-walled conference rooms foster transparency, but windows tinted with Good Apple-specific shades of green add personality and privacy. The custom build-out was completed in six weeks.
Many traditional commercial landlords are diversifying their portfolios with flexible office options. Last year, Tishman Speyer, which has more than 20 million square feet of offices in New York alone, launched flex brand Studio in response to the changing market. Studio offers coworking spaces in Class A Tishman Speyer properties; the first opened in Rockefeller Center in November 2018.
Designed by Gensler, the 35,000-square-foot space features a large lounge that’s reminiscent of the Ace Hotel lobby, with leather sofas and custom booths, communal wood tables and pods of plump club chairs. “In no way shape or form did we want this to be corporate or traditional build out,” says Galli.
Conference rooms take cues from New York neighborhoods: Times Square features bold colors and a small table and chairs suited for a quick meeting, while Brooklyn Heights looks like a brownstone’s library, with brick wallpaper, a vintage-inspired rug and upholstered midcentury-modern chairs.
“When you walk through the space, it really feels like you are in a beautiful, welcoming and warm living room,” says Galli. “It’s a place where you would love to stay.”
Not every company that needs a flexible lease wants a hip office that’s primed for Instagram. There’s still a desire for a more buttoned-up aesthetic, with a focus on privacy and service at a boast-worthy address. IWG’s Regus has been providing these spaces for more than three decades, and for 20 years, on the 26th floor of the Chrysler Building. Here, the 18,000-square-foot office has landmarked interiors, with original mahogany millwork and Art Deco details lending a formal air to the space.
“When Regus came to the US in 1998, the industry was focused around buildings that the typical individual may not be able to get into from the standpoint of capital investment and availability of space,” says Berretta. “It would be difficult for a company with one or two individuals to get into a marquee property and afford to build it out and have it tailored to them specifically.”