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Economy & Business

Why Your Corporate Office Could Start Looking More Like A Coworking Space

Squares's St. Louis office in the Cortex Innovation Community, photographed in 2018. The mobile payments firm is in the process of renovating the former St. Louis Post-Dispatch building for its new St. Louis office.
Square
Squares' St. Louis office in the Cortex Innovation Community, photographed in 2018. The mobile payments firm is in the process of renovating the former St. Louis Post-Dispatch building for its new St. Louis office.

Companies in the St. Louis region are rethinking their office spaces after a year when more people than ever worked remotely.

Many bosses are looking toward coworking spaces for ideas as COVID-19 vaccinations increase, mask mandates are lifted and workers return to offices.

Coworking spaces, popular among tech startups, freelancers and bootstrapping entrepreneurs, typically provide work-from-home flexibility, networking events and open floor plans designed to encourage collaboration.

Now, local companies are hiring managers of coworking spaces to help them build more enticing workplaces and reintroduce employees to in-person workdays. Among those hires is Christopher Holt, co-founder of TechArtista, which has four workspaces in the area.

“[Managers who] typically find themselves having to only worry about the physicality of an office are now trying to figure out how to add more attractive forces, like events and programming or things like that to incentivize people to want to come back a little more,” Holt said.

Some businesses have also paid for TechArtista memberships so their employees can access networking opportunities and events, he said.

The growing local interest in coworking spaces comes as more companies nationwide allow employees to work both remotely and in-person.

Square made headlines in 2020 when it announced workers could choose to permanently work from home. The mobile payments company signed a 15-year lease for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s former office downtown just a year before.

A spokesperson for Square said the company does not plan to sublease its new office and expects to move in employees who choose to work in-person later this year.

Time to think small?

Downsizing office space is a big decision — one many bosses are not ready to make just yet, Holt said.

“You don't want to get yourself out of a multiyear lease, then find out in a year that people do actually want to get back in the office,” Holt said.

The St. Louis metro currently has nearly 12 million square feet of vacant office space, according to Avison Young, a commercial real estate firm. That’s the highest office vacancy rate in the area since 2015.

In 2019, the region had nearly 10 million square feet in vacant office space.

Many businesses are subleasing portions of their office to other companies to make additional income, instead of downsizing altogether, said Brian Kelley, managing director for the firm’s St. Louis office.

Avison Young is reporting a 12-year high for companies subleasing portions of their offices. The firm manages around 30 properties in the region.

Moving forward, office culture is a bit uncertain, Kelley said. But one thing he is sure of is that coworkers will want a physical workplace to connect, even if it’s within a smaller space than before.

“I think the office market, talking from a real estate perspective, will be really, really touch-and-go for the next couple years,” he said. “But I think people will slowly migrate back to needing an office presence.”

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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