Capital Region coworking spaces thrive as people recreate work conditions

As seen in the Times Union

Photo of Shayla Colon

Flexible and coworking spaces are rebounding from the pandemic with continuous growth after COVID thrust creative work conditions onto employers.

Coworking hubs are locations occupied by several companies and individuals. They typically offer private offices for rent or memberships where individuals can work out of an open desk environment and share common amenities with others using the space.

Tom Nardacci, owner of the Troy Innovation Garage and Bull Moose Club in Albany, recalled losing approximately 60 percent of business across both workspaces during the lowest point of the pandemic, a dramatic change from the overwhelming “110 percent” capacity prior to last year’s shutdowns.

Nardacci had 50 private offices and 185 coworking members between both locations before the crisis ensued. The private offices were doing so well, that he had to start a waiting list. But when COVID took hold, he watched as memberships stalled, members dropped off and private office rentals took a hit.

Mark Eagan, president and chief executive officer of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, said people questioned how viable coworking spaces were during the pandemic because of social distancing. The industry endured a lull in participation, then rallied when restrictions were lifted.

Nardacci said coming back from those blows has been a “slow build-back,” but activity picked up in the last couple of months from what he called a “pent-up demand.

“Now, we have one open office available total between two spaces,” he said, noting that people are coming back and that he’s received more calls than ever in the past six months from companies inquiring about the space as they sort out return-to-office plans.

Patrick Harris Jr., president of the Collectiveffort in Troy, and Tracy Metzger, owner of the Beahive in Albany, said they’d experienced a similar uptick in demand. Harris said he’s seen more interest from businesses than individuals and Metzger, more desire for private offices than open workspaces.

Harris explained that coworking was viewed as a “luxury” in the before time, pre-COVID. The residual effect of remote working has forced employers and workers alike to realign their values around the traditional workplace culture and realize the value of flexible workspaces as a “tactical” business option.

Those who once thought working in a designated office was crucial to their jobs have learned that the camaraderie in office culture can be developed from beyond just one set of four walls. And for remote workers, it’s become a place they can go to when in need of interaction with others.

These realizations have opened doors for the coworking sector and fueled more interest. Collectiveffort’s media and coworking entities have flourished so much that Harris said they are considering expanding onto another floor of their building.

The Schenectady-based Urban Coworks is similarly moving to a larger location up the street to accommodate the rising need. Kristen Guastella, general manager of Urban Coworks, noticed several people had joined the community after their offices or headquarters closed. The 10 offices quickly filled after Coworks reopened and now at the new Jay Street building, there will be 32 offices available.

CAPNY determined there are 24 coworking sites in the region. However, Eagan said there are likely more because the number recorded online is not an exhaustive count. He noted that while coworking startups were predominantly stationed in urban centers, they’re now appearing in suburban settings as well.

“It caters to what people’s needs are and the price points vary significantly,” he said. “It’s a cost-efficient way to do business and it’s a way of creating a sense of community.”

Prices associated with coworking spaces vary from one to the next. Co-workers can pay anywhere from $25 for a day pass to around $65 a month for a membership or several hundred for an office. The Blake Annex, a newer coworking space specifically for non-profits, said organizations can eliminate 47 percent of administrative costs by moving into the venue and make projects more efficient by simply being around like-minded organizations.

Jennifer Doyle, co-founder and vice president of Customer Support and Success, said that was a major takeaway for her business, which she runs out of four offices in the Troy Innovation Garage. Not needing to take care of an office allowed her to better focus on business operations. Coworking gave her the freedom to avoid locking into a lease, be in an environment that was suitable to her needs and gave her support from other business folks.

The coworking trend that was sprouting in the region before the pandemic, might now have the legs it needed to take off. Looking ahead to the future, Eagan believes coworking structures will become prevalent as demand increases and the sector continues evolving.