Spaces   //   November 29, 2021

Suburbs become the new power centers as people opt for flex workspaces to avoid commutes

The continued demand to work closer to home is finally making the 15-minute commute a reality. 

During the pandemic, people have famously relocated from urban centers to highly desirable areas outside cities — like Napa Valley in Northern California, where the flex workspace firm IWG recently opened an outpost. And it’s a phenomenon that knows no borders.

“Companies across the globe have realized that a workforce can be highly engaged and productive while utilizing a hybrid model of working — at home, in a local office, and occasionally at a corporate headquarters,” said IWG’s CEO Mark Dixon. “Employees have recognized that hours have been wasted commuting to an office that they don’t need to be in, while businesses have seen that a hybrid model not only means happier and more engaged employees but also significant cost savings.”

IWG is just one of the companies to have tapped the surging popularity of suburban workspaces. Another is Daybase, founded by former WeWork executives, which recently opened the doors of three flex workspaces in the New York metro area, in New Jersey and Westchester County. (According to a recent report from the Partnership for New York City, only 23% of office workers in the city have returned.)

Over the past year or so, IWG has seen the greatest level of interest in its suburban locations as well, as it rapidly expands its footprint to keep up with the demand to work closer to home.

Likewise, mounting interest in the suburban office space led the San Diego coworking space Downtown Works to open a 15,000-square-foot outpost on five acres of land in Carlsbad, California, a community about 35 miles north of downtown San Diego. The suburban location, which features manicured lawns, outdoor furniture and custom workspaces, has attracted those who are still concerned about safety but crave face-to-face meetings. And of course, sunny Southern California boasts weather that allows for people to work outside all year long. The location is at capacity, according to David Adato, operations manager and CTO.

"Some are negotiating with their employers to switch to a coworking space closer to their homes or to be able to receive a monthly company stipend."
David Adato, operations manager and CTO, Downtown Works.

In addition to Carlsbad, Downtown Works is in the process of building out a new location in Pacific Beach, a beach community about 10 miles north of the city, said Adato.

“As things continue to open up and companies are telling people they can come back to the office, some are negotiating with their employers to switch to a coworking space closer to their homes or to be able to receive a monthly company stipend,” he said. “The pandemic has also underscored that companies can hire the talent they need regardless of geography and can offer the use of a coworking space near remote employees’ homes with all the amenities of an office — with meeting rooms, AV, video studios and more.”

Some of those flocking to suburban spaces are entrepreneurs who simply want to have the buzz of people around them again, network and have a place to work other than their home office, he added. 

Adato thinks that ultimately more businesses and employees will come to see the value in a hybrid approach, rotating between working from home one day and an office the next. Coworking enables that flexibility. Some coworking spaces, including Downtown Works, also offer reciprocal arrangements with other coworking offices across the globe, so people can drop into an office when traveling too. Adato calls it “the ultimate work from anywhere solution.”

Jamie Hodari, CEO of Industrious — which provides companies like Lyft and Spotify with all-inclusive urban and suburban office spaces, boasting features like wellness rooms and daily breakfast with craft coffee — said a good number of the companies approaching him these days are looking to create a hub-and-spoke model for which space outside the heart of the city is integral. For example, the company has suburban locations in business centers like Atlanta and Dallas, while in the metro New York area, Industrious has an outpost in New Jersey with another being developed there, right across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. With the changes in work life, as he pointed out, “the concept of spending two hours a day on a New Jersey Transit train is really unpalatable.”

Hodari sees the shift to coworking spaces as a permanent one, as work-life has been redefined. “If you look at the data, it’s like 80% of people want to go to the office at least a few days a week,” he said. “For most people, the reason is they’re missing social and human interaction, and you can get that with your little cluster of Westchester colleagues or your Brooklyn colleagues versus needing to go to the 500-person hub in midtown.”

As they scramble for increasingly hard-to-find space, some coworking companies have become the ultimate recyclers, too – taking over abandoned storefronts in shopping malls, thus revitalizing those sad, hulking husks of suburban real estate.

As for downtown, what will become of it as suburban work centers continue to flourish?

IWG’s Dixon, for one, believes that while cities obviously will remain important hubs of business, they will need to reimagine what draws people into their orbit beyond just work. The infrastructure is already in place, he pointed out – now they just need to focus on “filling them with pleasure seekers, not weary commuters.”