When Sebastian Smith’s employer in California went remote until further notice during the pandemic, he chose to temporarily move to Spokane to be closer to family.
Smith, who works in the financial industry, signed up for a membership at Liberty Lake Coworking, which provides flexible office space, dedicated cubicles, private offices and large team suites for remote workers, freelancers, entrepreneurs and startups.
“I started getting a bit lonely working from home. The biggest thing is I had no connections,” Smith said. “We had our 8 a.m. morning calls every day, but I was still missing that physical, face-to-face communication.”
After joining Liberty Lake Coworking, Smith made connections with people working in a variety of industries.
“I went to school for finance and it was the only industry I knew. Coming here, I’m meeting people that work in law, technology and agriculture, and I’m like, ‘Wow, these industries are cool,’ ” he said.
Smith is among several remote workers seeking flexible workspaces as companies nationwide switch to hybrid or remote work policies during the pandemic.
As a result, local coworking spaces are seeing increasing demand for workspaces and private offices. Some are even expanding to accommodate a growing membership base.
Nearly 5 million people will be working from coworking spaces by 2024, an increase of 158% compared to 2020, according to a study by CoworkingResources and Coworker.com.
“The trend that we’re seeing is companies are allowing their workers to work remote,” said Ann Long, who co-founded Liberty Lake Coworking with her husband, Steve. “Now, people are moving around the country closer to their friends or their family members and they have realized they can have the balance of work and life they were craving.”
Liberty Lake Coworking, 23505 E. Appleway Ave., was about 30% full when the pandemic took hold in the state early last year. By January, its 12 private office spaces were occupied, Long said, adding they still have space for dedicated desks.
“Post-COVID, business is shaping up to look very favorable to the coworking industry, which is great news for us,” Long said. “With remote work on the rise, there’s been an increase in large enterprise businesses downsizing their real estate portfolios. So the combination of the increased number of remote workers, coupled with employers becoming more agile in order to keep their talented employees – that’s been a huge boost for us.”
Liberty Lake Coworking’s members includes such people as remote workers for global enterprise companies, attorneys, therapists and salespeople. Throughout the pandemic, it provided workspace for court reporters who used the conference room to participate in remote court cases and hosted ‘digital nomads,’ which are remote workers who travel to different locations while operating online businesses.
“We’re seeing digital nomads that are hitting the road and working in their RVs all over the country and traveling with their families. I’ve had several of those come through and they’ll find a coworking space and hang out with us for a week or two, or up to a month,” Long said. “… Having flexible office options is one of the many things that our community members love.”
Owners of coworking spaces are adapting to trends spurred by the pandemic by changing designs to meet the needs of members while implementing social distancing and sanitation practices to ensure safety.
Long said she’s continually evaluating needs of the community and watching trends carefully to improve members’ overall experience.
An unexpected change was creating space for members to participate in Zoom calls, she said.
“When we opened our coworking space, we never considered that ‘Zoom rooms’ would be a necessary amenity,” Long said. “Today, more than 75% of our membership are on multiple Zoom calls daily, and we don’t see that changing.”
Other coworking operators benefitting
Niche Coworking, which is located in the Saranac Building in downtown Spokane, is seeing an increase in inquiries for short-term, month-to-month leases for private office space.
“We are full and we have a waitlist 10 names long,” said Dana Oxford, community manager at Niche Coworking. “For regular office space, too, we’re completely full. I’ve been here six years and we’ve never been completely full.”
Coworking spaces are providing a viable option to remote workers growing tired of working from home.
“Most people want to get out of the house and just want somewhere else to go, or they just want a change of scenery,” Oxford said. “My newest tenant moved here from the West Side and just wants to meet people.”
The sharp increase in demand for coworking spaces following pandemic-related shutdowns was surprising, added Oxford, who is also a property manager for the Saranac and Community buildings.
“I thought people would say, ‘I want to work from home’ and not come in at all, but the exact opposite happened,” she said.
Most new people on Niche Coworking’s waitlist are from out of the area, demonstrating a nationwide trend in which residents of larger metro areas are moving to midsize cities like Spokane in search of affordability, more space and better quality of life.
Fellow Coworking in downtown Spokane has also experienced an increase in inquiries from entrepreneurs, founder Luke Baumgarten said.
Fellow Coworking, located in the Washington Cracker Co. Building at 304 W. Pacific Ave., had 80 members prior to the pandemic. The coworking space now has more than 84 members, Baumgarten said, adding he’s received inquiries from local businesses considering a hybrid work model.
While Fellow Coworking’s community space has plenty of openings, there’s a short waitlist for dedicated desk space and one opening for a private suite, Baumgarten added.
Coworking has been used by remote workers for years. Because of that, Fellow Coworking has provided a glimpse into the companies and people moving to Spokane through its members, Baumgarten said.
“Places like us sort of saw the trend coming a couple of years before it hit hard during COVID,” he said. “It’s been a fascinating way to track people moving to Spokane.”
An expanding market
Baumgarten said growing interest in the coworking space has spurred consideration of opening a second Spokane-area location.
“We’ve got 7,500 square feet of space total and we’re not at capacity, but I could see getting close,” he said.
Long, of Liberty Lake Coworking, is opening a second location in a space formerly occupied by Stay Alfred in the Sullivan Commons at 2818 N. Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley.
“We have a waitlist here at (Liberty Lake Coworking) and we feel like there’s still a big need out there, especially in the suburbs,” she said.
Long’s new 18,000-square-foot coworking space will be a part of Burbity Workspaces and is slated to open later this year.
The new space will have private offices, suites to accommodate teams of up to 20 people, and move-in ready spec suites for large companies requiring 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, Long said.
Additional amenities will include a yoga room, gym, showers, an indoor event space as well as an outdoor event space. There also will be conference rooms and a large training room available for rent, Long said.
Long aims to accommodate small tech startups, remote workers, freelancers, business owners and more in the new space, and in turn, foster collaboration and communication.
“Work is where we all find that we have the bulk of our social interactions. So we solve that problem with a vibrant community manager to keep the community engaged and learning together and networking together,” she said. “We just want to provide a vibrant community for small businesses and remote workers and stay engaged with the community.”
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