'Hybrid Workspaces' Come to the Suburbs and Small Towns

A WeWork team looks to reinvent coworking again.

Hoboken
Offices are coming back to Hoboken, New Jersey.

Treehugger previously discussed the future of the 15-minute city and the return of the satellite office and predicted the rise of coworking spaces in suburbs and small towns. Now it appears the real estate business is taking notice and it is no longer just coworking—it is now called the buzzy "hybrid workspace." Former WeWork executives have introduced Daybase, and are opening their first space in Hoboken, New Jersey.

"Historically, companies and employees have been limited to the imperfect choice between working from a centralized corporate office or co-working space, and working from home," said Daybase CEO Joel Steinhaus in a press release. "But the pandemic has created a demand for a seamless hybrid work experience."

It may have a new name, but it looks and smells like rebranded coworking. WeWork refugees listed as being part of the company include Adam Koogler, who was head of design strategy for WeWork and responsible for the design of over five million square feet of office space. WeWork used to claim their "beautiful, collaborative workspaces" were different, and they certainly had a very cool vibe described as "newer, cooler" than traditional serviced offices.

Perhaps this is newer, cooler coworking. According to Daybase:

"Daybase's new model for the hybrid workplace centers on building out a network of professional-grade, on-demand work spots, built close to home in neighborhoods and local communities across the country. When combined with the office and home, these Daybases form a complete hybrid work ecosystem."

It all sounds like a very corporate invasion of small towns and suburban main streets, with WeWork's former employees—head of product systems, head of product experience, director of new business strategy, head of hospitality, and head of operations and finance—described as "a team of seasoned executives with experience in enterprise workplace solutions, design, architecture, technology, construction, finance and real estate."

Steinhaus, previously chief of staff for WeWork's Adam Neumann, tells The Wall Street Journal they are not replacing corporate HQ but creating an additional network: “There’s not going to be a switch that’s flipped and we’re all going to go back to some normal.”

This is not at all what Treehugger's Kimberley Mok described as the essence of coworking, a form of intentional community:

"...there's more to coworking than just "sharing desks". To make a coworking space actually work, there has to be a common vision, a shared identity of sorts, allowing for deeper connections between its members to happen, and a desire to develop an underlying support system that keeps people engaged and makes them feel like they belong."

Alas, this venture-capital-backed version looks like it is following the WeWork pattern, with common lounge access going for as little as $50 per month, seriously undercutting existing coworking spaces that can start at a few hundred dollars for a shared desk.

Is this a good thing?

Lokaal coworking spaces
Lokaal, my neighborhood coworking space. Scott Norsworthy Photography

I always thought so. According to The Wall Street Journal: "A proliferation of new suburban office spaces could help fill empty retail space. They could also further blur the distinction between residential and commercial neighborhoods and help remake metropolitan areas." They note that instead of centralized business districts, "some urban planners suggest cities could become more decentralized, with more and smaller offices throughout the suburbs. That would allow more people to work and shop without ever having to commute far."

This was always the Treehugger dream, expressed in "The Coronavirus and the Future of Main Street," that people working from home and from coworking spaces would revitalize our communities, noting:

"Office workers often go shopping at lunch, go to the gym before work, hit the cleaners or go out with a co-worker for lunch. People have to get out of the office just to get out of the office, and will likely feel the same about their home office. This could lead to a dramatic increase in customers for local businesses and services in the local neighborhoods."

Kevin McIntosh of Lokaal, a coworking space in Toronto on "Corso Italia"—the neighborhood used to be solidly Italian—tells Treehugger that coworking serves many objectives including filling vacant storefronts, providing a "third space for people to come work free from home distractions and long commutes."

"Activate a local business area by attracting and retaining daytime people traffic that will spend locally as part of their daily routine—a more circular mini-economy not unlike the 15-minute city idea," says McIntosh. "Take Corso Italia as an example: more than half the restaurants are not open during lunch since there is a very small work day-time crowd but if there was a coworking space with 100++ people you can bet it starts to make sense to open for lunch. Throughout the pandemic, in fact, many who were traditionally closed at lunch decided to open since they were now surrounded by Work-From-Home people in houses and apartments within a few minutes walk."

Will co-working survive a WeWork-style invasion? Can it actually support a flying squad of "seasoned executives"? Stay tuned.