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Coworking Is Flexible, But Is It Productive?

A rendering of a Breather space at 322 Eighth Ave., in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York

When coworking first arrived, its providers promised a revolution in productivity. They would supply the space, the furniture, the coffee and kombucha. Without the burden of running an office, tenants could focus exclusively on their work, maximizing productivity for individuals and teams.

Coworking has now become a fixture of the office market, but the jury is still out on whether it has made employees more productive. While coworking sites still tout their original promisesa body of anecdotal evidence suggests that sharing a workspace with dozens of other companies can create a disruptive, unproductive environment.

As coworking matures and employees become wary of shared and open office spaces, providers are shifting toward flexible, private offices.

“Most companies today are thinking about adding flexible space to their office portfolios,” Breather CEO Bryan Murphy said. “They like the flexibility of coworking, but they don’t necessarily like the coworking aspect. Breather solves this problem by offering the flexibility of coworking with the privacy and productivity of a direct lease.”

Breather began as a company that offered workspace on demand for off-site meetings, renting private office spaces by the hour and the day. As it amassed a network of private offices, though, Breather recognized an opportunity to evolve from its original model.

“Companies began to ask us to create longer-term, flexible office spaces,” Murphy said. “Now, nearly 50% of our spaces are used for that purpose. Our average build is around 6K SF of furnished, productive office space, all of which will be dedicated to a single company at a time.”

Today, Breather offers over 500 private office and meeting spaces on demand, forming what Murphy called a hub-and-spoke network: flexible office space available on a monthly or yearly basis, with on-demand access to auxiliary meeting space nearby or across the company’s 10 North American markets.

“It’s an appealing concept for any company that prizes scalability, flexibility and culture,” Murphy said. “If price and flexibility are the same, given the choice between coworking and Breather, most companies opt for their own private space with Breather."

A Breather space at 893 Folsom St., San Francisco

Coworking companies often extoll the fact that numerous companies call their offices home. They argue that shared spaces facilitate networking and a free exchange of ideas. While that may be true, that free exchange can also create a disruptive, unproductive environment for many coworking tenants.

Murphy said having a dedicated private office space is especially important for small companies looking to establish a strong company culture and privacy. It could also be a better solution for large companies looking for extra room for a short duration or for companies starting an office in a new city that are still unsure of their long-term needs. Rather than having to contend with the other occupants of a coworking space, these enterprises can import their own established workflows to an office that belongs solely to them.

The shift toward more private flexible offices could be helpful for brokers as well. Murphy said brokers looking to place their clients in new office space may choose a sublease without having considered flexible office at all.

“The shorter terms of subleases can be attractive, but oftentimes you’re going to inherit a worn-out office and with few rights as a subtenant,” Murphy said. “Breather is often a better choice for clients thinking they want a sublease.”

Breather also offers brokers 10% commission of their clients’ bookings for the first 12 months. That commission can be an added boon for brokers who were already looking to offer clients more flexible options.

A Breather space at 495 Adelaide St. W, Toronto, Ontario

Finding a flexible office space that can offer both convenience and style can be difficult. Often, if a company wants a private office, its employees will be forced into an undecorated space with little in the way of natural light and certainly no furniture.

“The workspace environment has a huge effect on productivity, as well as employee attraction and retention,” Murphy said. “As a result, we place a high value on office aesthetics. Breather seeks out office spaces with lots of natural light, thermal and acoustic regulation. We carefully consider the ratio of private to open seating and curate all the furniture inside to suit users’ needs.”

Breather has now served over 500,000 customers and 16,000 businesses. In many cases, the company’s customers have grown up alongside Breather’s model. Murphy said that some companies that began using Breather directly after their first rounds of venture funding now have multiple Breather spaces.

“These companies really didn’t know what they would look like in a year or even in a month,” Murphy said. “Having their own space right from the start was a boost to morale and productivity. They needed the flexibility that Breather can deliver.”

This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Breather. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.