Hurricane Harvey Is Teaching Houston How To Love Co-Working
Necessity is teaching Houston’s oil and gas industry about inventive office space. With offices across the city flooded or inaccessible in the wake of Harvey, affected companies are turning to burgeoning co-working spaces in their time of need. At TechSpace in Westchase, occupancy has skyrocketed over 60% since Labor Day.
TechSpace Site Manager Robert Spoden has been one of the busiest men in Houston since Harvey. Before the storm, he had only leased 18 suites of the site’s top floor. All 253 seats in 76 suites are now full. He expects all 453 seats across 46K SF of co-working space to be fully leased within the week.
“There’s a lot of activity going on, my phone’s ringing off the hook with companies calling about hurricane relief,” Spoden said.
His busy schedule is a welcome change of pace for a space that has struggled in the past. Houston’s conservative workplace culture has been slow to adapt to co-working. Parkway Managing Director Mike Fransen has been doing his best to highlight co-working's benefits for years, but it is a hard sell in Houston.
“We gave a lot of hard hat tours trying to pre-sell spots at TechSpace, but people couldn’t see it,” Fransen said. “There’s a learning curve, but Harvey, out of necessity, has forced this on people. Now they’re in it, and they see it can work.”
Spoden agreed. “Until you’re in it, you can’t experience it,” he said.
When a company comes in and sets up shop in less than 24 hours, it hits them that this can actually work. Spoden said the new tenants have come in expecting the move to be a challenge, but the plug-and-play nature of the space just works.
“Most of these guys aren’t used to this atmosphere, they’ve told me they didn’t think they’d like something like this till they got here.”
Many of TechSpace's temporary tenants want to remain anonymous. There is a perception that moving into a co-working space is a sign of displacement. But as the temporary tenants see the benefits of the space, that perception is rapidly changing.
When it was announced the Addicks and Barker reservoirs would have to release water, it was clear McDermott, a multinational engineering firm, was not going to be able to access its office at Eldridge and Memorial. Once Harvey cleared, the company reached out to TechSpace. Spoden gave it a tour on Labor Day. The company was up and operating the very next day.
McDermott financial analyst Kady Vixamar was one of the first employees to make the move.
“I had no idea this was even a concept. I’ve never heard of anything like this, I thought they’d just found an empty building somewhere,” Vixamar said.
But when she walked into TechSpace for the first time, things clicked.
“With how modern it is, it’s just a really nice environment to work in, it’s very different from our old office, which was kind of bland,” Vixamar said. “It’s very conducive to learning, I wish I was doing something creative, but I’m an accountant.”
Vixamar said she is still sitting with her normal team and does not feel like their efficiency has been hindered in any way. Since moving in, she has been talking to friends and family about the new office concept.
TechSpace needed the kick-start — no one wanted to be the pioneer.
“Generally people who tour a co-working space want to see people, so the question becomes: how do you get people into space when they want to see people you don’t have?”
But now the energy around the co-working space designed by Houston-based PDR is undeniable. With so many new tenants, Post-it notes are being used as labels on offices and lockers. The hallways are full, the common spaces are buzzing.
“This density is literally from the last two weeks,” Fransen said.
TechSpace knows the boost is only temporary. Its new tenants have their own offices to go back to.
“Lots of these deals won’t be here for long, and they haven’t been easy to accommodate, but TechSpace has a large pipeline of long-term normal users that are seeing the activity, and that’s helping to sell,” Fransen said.
Even when TechSpace’s new tenants return to their offices, their idea of what an office can be will never be the same. Spoden said he has been in talks with several of the new tenants about leaving a team or two behind.
“I’d be shocked if that’s not an outcome,” Fransen said. “I’d be shocked if McDermott ever makes the same real estate decision again.”
“We all joke around that we’re going to miss this place,” McDermott’s Vixmar said.
In the past two weeks, Houston has learned much about itself. Like how resilient we are and how generous we can be. And how maybe it is time to mix up our office game.
"For co-working and what this represents, with WeWork about to launch, there’s a real need for Houston to have more of this product," Fransen said. "It’s been a unique silver lining."
CORRECTION. Sept. 14, 2:45 P.M. ET: A previous version of the story incorrectly labeled suites as seats.