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Human touch fuels rise of co-working spaces

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Andrew Bondarowicz, founder, Fanteractive.com, using one of the conference rooms at Launch Pad, a co-working space in Newark.
Andrew Bondarowicz, founder, Fanteractive.com, using one of the conference rooms at Launch Pad, a co-working space in Newark. - ()

Andrew Bondarowicz, a sports attorney, Rutgers law professor and former NFL agent, operates his fan-portal business Fanteractive from Launch Pad, a co-working space in Newark.

“We’re planning to expand over the next few years [and] the space gives us a lot more flexibility,” Bondarowicz said. “We really want community interaction and to bring people together. Not only do you want those creative juices to flow, but it’s also about having people being able to come together.”

Launch Pad Community Manager Dayo Adiatu said more than 60 “members” have signed on since the workspace opened in April. The space is a mix of private offices, conference rooms, private phone booths, a kitchen and cafe and common areas outfitted with desks, couches and tables.

“There’s definitely been a trend, as people want flexibility and cost-effective spaces that allow them to look professional and offer the connection they crave,” Adiatu said. “People who work from home have said to me that they miss the connection with people.”

New Jersey is part of a big trend in commercial real estate that’s seen new flex space created and others converted to accommodate sweeping changes in the nation’s workforce. By 2020, more than 40 percent of U.S. workers will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs, according to a study conducted by software company Intuit.

Co-working space – featuring shared amenities and flexible floor plans – offers businesses that need it an arrangement ripe for employee interaction.

“Entrepreneurship can be mentally taxing, so it’s very good to have resources where people work,” Adiatu said. “It’s an open space and they physically see each other and hear each other. It’s my job to introduce and connect people. It’s my job to create community partnerships — the goal has always been community.”

Francesa Larson, co-founder of the [IN]Mosaic co-working space in Bloomfield, said workers appreciate flexibility and creature comforts. 

“I’d thank post-recession entrepreneurship, portable technology and an increasing interest in community for the popularity of co-working spaces,” Larson said. “Oh, and coffee shops password-protecting their Wi-Fi.”

The co-working model also allows for short-term commitment, a key consideration for startups and growing businesses.

“More corporations are also starting to utilize the co-working venues to evolve their own corporate cultures and cultivate innovation,” said Vanessa Byrem-Tangy, a partner in [IN]Mosaic. “We find that freelance creative professionals [also] are eager to get out of the coffee shop and work in a real environment where they can find places to concentrate and to interact with professionals from all walks of life. Many companies and professionals have evolved to understand that the next big idea or breakthrough for them isn’t always going to happen in their office. ... Fresh coffee, a soft couch and a cute dog can bring the joy of Sunday morning into a lagging Wednesday afternoon.”

According to Instant Group’s annual U.S. Market Summary report, co-working space encompasses an estimated 80 million square feet of flex space.

Michelle Broderick, Instant Group’s managing director of sales and marketing for Americas, said landlords who once viewed co-working space as less profitable have done an about-face.

“[Some businesses] don’t know if they will be 50 employees or 500 in 10 years, so signing themselves up to a lease really dictates their ability to grow,” Broderick said, noting the increasing popularity of rolling monthly contracts. “The massive increase in contingent workers is also a key element here. This move toward professional transience really fits with the flex space ethos and for companies to remain lean, with a core of full-time workers supported by project teams.”

“Older workers were more conditioned into the ‘work hard, get a mortgage, buy a car’ lifestyle,” she added. “I think the younger generations are challenging these goals and looking for different experiences. This goes back to agility. Few people would choose to work in the same cubicle day after day looking at the same walls with the same co-workers around them. [Now] that wireless tech and cloud computing empower remote, secure working, why do we need to report to the same workstation every day other than to satisfy the overzealous eye of an untrusting manager?”

Bret Morgan, a co-founder of Asbury Park Cowerks, said he was inspired to open a co-working space as a way to get like-minded people under one roof.

“It’s about getting a bunch of smart people in similar verticals together,” Morgan said. “We have all kinds of entrepreneurs including web designers, digital marketers, real estate investors, online realtors and music attorneys. People there bounce ideas off each other. You develop friendships.”

“Co-working was kind of branded with tech, but I believe co-working can be a major tool for any industry,” said Zahra Amanpour, who launched Jersey City co-working space Indiegrove in 2013. “We use one another’s services, so it became a place that people can grow with one another and grow their businesses.”

Co-working can also combat isolation, just one of the many challenges of entrepreneurship, said Amanpour.

“You’re on your own,” she said. “You’re not sure what to do so you use others and learn from each other and that’s a smoother path to success. A lot of times it’s very lonely but if you’re sitting next to others, you can bounce ideas and that really helps.”

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Elana Knopp

Elana Knopp

Elana Knopp covers all things real estate for NJBIZ. You can contact her at eknopp@njbiz.com.

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