What’s The Future Of Indy’s Shared Workspaces?

As the gig economy takes off, national co-working chains move in to challenge Indy’s boutques and traditional offices.
When the Speak Easy opened in SoBro six years ago, many locals saw Indy’s first coworking space as a curiosity. The reclaimed-wood walls and beer on tap were fun, but how many gig-economy workers and small tech businesses could there possibly be to fill it? A lot, as it turns out. Today, The Speak Easy has 1,000 members. Similar coworking boutiques such as The Bureau (Fletcher Place) and The Hatch (Broad Ripple) have opened in the intervening years. And all of them face new competition from national players. Chicago-based Level Office, which has locations in 15 cities, bought Circle Tower in early 2017 and plans to devote a quarter of the historic 14-story building to coworking space. New York–based Industrious, which operates in 25 cities, opened late last year in the new Marietta building on Mass Ave. And Indianapolis is a prime future market for WeWork, the industry goliath that operates in 19 countries and sports a valuation of about $20 billion.

Luckily, there’s plenty of demand to go around, according to The Speak Easy executive director Danielle McDowell. The Speak Easy used to “graduate” its companies once they reached 10 to 15 employees, but the departing colleagues missed the camaraderie of coworking. So in 2016, The Speak Easy opened a suite for coworking and micro-offices in downtown’s Morrison Opera House building, in part to accommodate larger companies. “You’re not just renting an office from us,” says McDowell. “You’re becoming part of a tight-knit community.”

Owners of traditional office space here are racing to give their properties a face-lift in order to offer that community feel. Buildings are renovating conference rooms, lounges, game rooms, and fitness facilities for companies to share, instead of building them out individually. The old rule of thumb for offices called for 250 square feet of space per employee, but that has shrunk to about 150 square feet for new ones. As traditional cubicles downsize or disappear entirely, some building owners are redeploying the reclaimed square footage almost entirely to shared amenities.

Several office buildings, including Salesforce Tower and Market Tower, have been particularly active in making these improvements. WeWork likely won’t be far behind. “We’re already seeing a lot of competition among companies for employees,” says Jenna Barnett, executive managing director of the real estate brokerage Newmark Knight Frank. “As an employee interviews for a couple of different technology jobs, I think the real estate now plays into their decision on where to go.”