Workspace Options:  What’s the Best Fit for You?

Coworking, business center, shared workspace, flexible workspace, executive suite, serviced office, drop-in workspace - the office space market has its own linguistic stew. Not all workspaces are created equal, though, and for those looking for an alternative to traditional office space with its high costs and long-term commitments, it’s helpful to learn the differences between them.

While flexible workspace and shared workspace are generally used as catch-all umbrella terms to describe just about any non-traditional office space, business centers and coworking spaces are the two primary options available.  Each has niche offerings and additional names by which they are sometimes referred, but they generally boil down to one of these two options.

Business Centers – The Original, Full-Service Shared Workspace

Business centers, introduced in the 1960’s, originally referred to as executive suites and sometimes today called serviced offices, offer full-time private offices that include a unique phone number, high-function office phone, and high-speed internet.  Shared meeting spaces, shared reception area and kitchen, along with shared office equipment like a photocopier, fax machine, and postage meter also come with each office.  Topping it all off, and what really sets this option apart from coworking, are services like answering phones, greeting your visitors, handling mail and shipping, and even notarizing documents and offering project help.  In addition to all the conveniences, these shared spaces also provide opportunities for networking and collaboration.

If a private office is not needed, but a business address, phone number and/or a nice place to meet with clients is needed, business centers offer a “virtual office” option for just one or more of these services.  Many home-based companies find this a great way to separate work from home while keeping overhead low.

Business centers tend to work best for companies that need privacy, benefit from the professional and upscale image conveyed by a receptionist, and can use the services and shared office equipment to full advantage.  You’ll find many lawyers, CPA’s, financial advisors, mental health professionals, consultants, realtors, mortgage brokers, sales reps and even engineers and architects among the members of a business center.  You’ll also find large corporations looking to house remote employees in a setting that provides all the perks the employee would have in the company’s headquarters.

As an example, Alyssa is a financial advisor. She rents a small office from a business center in a mid-size city. Down the hall are an attorney in solo practice, a marriage counselor and the owner of a small company, working on growing his business. Alyssa’s client arrives to a well-appointed and professional-looking lobby. He is greeted by a receptionist who calls Alyssa to let her know that a client has arrived. Alyssa is able to welcome her client with a cup of coffee and use the business center’s copy machine to print a document that her client needs.  Alyssa is also in the process of hiring an assistant and will be able to add a second office easily once her new hire is found.

Coworking – The New Kid in Town

Business centers and coworking spaces may use some of the same ingredients, but they are two distinct dishes. Though both provide workspace and shared amenities for a variety of workers, coworking spaces often feature open concept environments with a stronger focus on community and collaboration. As a result, they often appeal to freelancers working in high-tech or creative professions and are favored by individuals who might benefit from group interaction and networking opportunities. Coworking is also useful for on-the-go professionals who don’t spend much time in the office or who travel and need a convenient work spot in different cities. It is also preferred by the more budget-conscious workers.  These workspaces are also sometimes referred to as drop-in workspace, hot desk space, and open office space.

For example, a professional named James uses a coworking venue in the center of a major city while developing his tech startup. He sits at a table in an open area filled with the buzz of voices and sounds of the espresso bar along one wall. The energy of the space stimulates him. He has become acquainted with other professionals who share the space and has even hired a freelance graphic designer he has met to do some work for him.

How Do Business Centers and Coworking Compare to Traditional Offices?

Increasingly, traditional office space is being used less and less by companies of all sizes.  The biggest advantages that business centers and coworking offer are flexibility and low maintenance.  Traditional space typically requires a long-term lease, sometimes as long as 10 years.  It also requires managing on your own all of the services that an office requires – phones, internet, janitorial, kitchen supplies, office equipment – the list can be daunting.  

But traditional space does have its advantages.  The space can be customized to your color and layout preferences, customers visiting your office aren’t confused by the other businesses sharing the same address and receptionist, you don’t have to “compete” with other companies for conference room time, confidentiality and privacy are less of a concern since everyone is working for the same company, and noise levels or other coworker behavior issues are more easily handled by one shared supervisor.  For well-established companies that don’t plan to move or change much for several years and have multiple employees who work in the office most of the time, traditional space is a great option.

What’s Best For You?

When it comes to finding a place to work, office space is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  The options are as diverse as the needs.  To find your best fit consider these factors:

  • How much flexibility do you need for upsizing, downsizing, and quick cancellation?
  • How many people do you need to accommodate?
  • How mobile are you and/or your workers?  If you’re not in the office much, why pay for space you don’t use.  Maybe just a business address and a meeting room are all you really need.
  • Will your customers need a place to see you or pick-up and drop-off items?
  • How important is image and a professional impression for your business?
  • Would you benefit from a receptionist to answer your calls and help your customers?
  • What’s your budget?

Giving these questions some careful thought will help you match your needs with the office option that’s the best fit for you and your company.