Meeting Space Service Convene Is Breaking Into Flexible Workspaces
On-demand meeting space service Convene has carved a niche for itself in the business world, but it has its sights set on the increasingly crowded world of flexible workspace.
When Convene bought Philly-based co-working provider The Hub in February 2016, it inherited three spaces in Downtown Philadelphia at Cira Centre, Commerce Square and the 13th floor of Duane Morris Plaza, which it calls CityView. At first it converted those spaces to suit its meeting service, but it was confronted with the growing demand for flexible workspace.
“The question that our meeting guests kept asking us was, ‘Can I just work here?’” Convene Corporate Communications Manager Jenna Wolleman said.
“From the customer perspective of our existing clients, it was clear that there was a need for an enterprise-grade flexible workspace solution for teams from 10 to 100,” Convene co-founder and CEO Ryan Simonetti said. “These groups have outgrown co-working and need a home, but for whatever reason don’t want a long-term lease.”
The “headquarters-as-a-service” model has been put in practice, with substantial success, in New York by Knotel, but Convene is the first company in Philadelphia to provide that kind of space. A roster of Fortune 1000 companies have used Convene’s meeting services, and its new focus could allow one of those companies to quickly establish a foothold in Philly.
Knotel’s branding has also targeted companies that have “outgrown” co-working as part of a particularly fierce competition in New York with WeWork. But Simonetti said Convene’s experience with the biggest companies in the country leads it to believe it can operate on an even higher level than Knotel.
“We’re not even competing for the same clients,” Simonetti said.
Though Philadelphia is not quite as established a co-working market as New York or Washington, D.C., Simonetti said the way Convene expanded into Philadelphia and the lack of a similar operator made it the best fit for the start of its workspace operation.
“As part of [acquiring The Hub], not only did we acquire a great set of assets, but really a great team of employees in a market we believe in,” Simonetti said.
When the 14th floor of Duane Morris Plaza became available, Convene jumped on the opportunity, beginning renovations to move the bulk of meeting operations up there. The 13th floor has already been converted to a combination of meeting space (called Meets), a commissary (called Nourish), a series of enclosed offices of varying size and shape to be called Works, and an area of tables, couches and telephone-booth-sized enclaves called Commons.
Works will be geared to a similar subset of businesses (large companies) that make up its meeting clientele, to be fully customizable in terms of furniture and design — whatever users can imagine, as long as they can leave the office the way they found it when finished. All Works offices have side rooms for use as an executive office or a conference room. Convene even has a metalworker on retainer to customize signage on the door to the offices.
Works memberships will come with minimum one-year contracts, but there will be a separate tier of membership that just grants access to Commons flexible spaces and runs month-to-month. Additional Meets spaces and multipurpose, multimedia rooms with couches and chairs called Huddles are free to reserve for Works members and cost credits built up with membership for Commons members — or if they are out of credits, they can pay to reserve them for an hour at a time.
According to Convene Area Director of Operations Mike Quisito, once the company opens up more Commons spaces in future locations, members will be able to use an online passport system to gain access to all locations, much like traditional co-working operators provide. Where Convene differs from the Knotel and WeWork camps is in the way it deals in real estate.
Though Convene’s Philadelphia footprint is in the form of traditional leases, it also provides its landlords — Brandywine Realty Trust in Cira Centre and Commerce Square and Oaktree Capital Management at Duane Morris Plaza — an amenity service to advertise to other tenants. Convene offers catering that can be delivered to offices all over the building, and its on-demand meeting space can be reserved just like a multi-tenant amenity space the landlord manages itself. Community events are also open to other building tenants as well as Convene members.
In other markets, Convene has partnered with giants Brookfield and Blackstone in barter-style deals wherein the landlord forgoes the lease in exchange for treating Convene as an amenity and programming manager for its tenants. That history is what the company is drawing on as it moves into co-working.
“We know this works because we’ve done something like this when we partnered with The Durst Organization at One World Trade Center to manage the 64th-floor tenant amenity space,” Wolleman said. “So we’ve got a community manager, we’ve got a space just like this but above the clouds. There are flexible areas to meet and work; there’s a game room and people bring their families to hang out.”
Simonetti said Convene’s partnership with Brandywine has started as a standard landlord-tenant arrangement, but he is hopeful for more, especially in light of the amount of office that will be delivered at Schuylkill Yards.
“It’s still the early days,” Simonetti said. “The Hub had a long-standing relationship with Brandywine, and their development and strategy team had been working with them on more places to do business together … We’re hopeful that we’ll be a true partner, not just a tenant.”
Convene officially opened at Duane Morris on Jan. 8, but due to an ongoing deal with Villanova to run the university’s executive MBA program, Works members will likely start signing deals in March with move-ins scheduled for early May, when the 14th-floor renovations are scheduled to be complete. So while Philly was the first city in which Convene built a co-working space, it will not be the first to open.
The company is close to opening its new headquarters in New York at Cove Property Group’s redevelopment of 101 Greenwich St., formerly 2 Rector St. Convene will rent the second through fourth floors, a total of 58K SF. It will not occupy all of that footprint; it will simply be one of the users of a Works custom office, with other spaces in the property available to new members.
At 101 Greenwich St., Duane Morris Plaza and its forthcoming location at Brookfield’s Wells Fargo North Tower at the Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, the addition of Works and Commons will come with an expansion of programming for both its members and its neighboring tenants in those buildings, with co-working classics such as happy hours, networking events and, of course, an expanded offering of fitness and wellness classes.
“Just like we continue to evolve our physical product offerings, we continue to deepen the types of things we can do from a service perspective,” Simonetti said.
CORRECTION, Feb. 5, 9:45 A.M. ET: A previous version of this article referred to Convene's commissary area as Eats, rather than Nourish. This article has been updated.