Karen Fisher was ready for something new. The CPA knew she wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial endeavor – her father had his own business, so she had “the bug” – and about four or five years ago she left the corporate finance world behind and opened her first Office Evolution location at Metropark in Iselin with her husband, George. “I love the idea of providing a community and a space where people come in and feel that sense of, ‘Oh, this is where I can be productive; I can step away from home; come here and start my business,” she said.
The couple is now cultivating that same kind of community at its new flexible workspace in East Brunswick: A 10,000-square-foot outpost on the 15th floor of One Tower Center. According to the company, it is the largest Black-owned coworking space in Middlesex County. Office Evolution, part of United Franchise Group’s Coworks division, says it is the largest provider of locally owned and operated flexible workspaces in the United States. The company has six additional locations in the Garden State.
In 2021, 5.4 million people – a record high – started their own businesses. People like Fisher were ready for something new and flexible workspaces offer support for these entrepreneurs. Fisher said the idea of working with local businesses and providing them space to mature was part of what attracted her to Office Evolution. “Just seeing them grow from someone who comes in to use an office for an hour, to someone who gets their own permanent office, and then to the point that they have employees and they need multiple offices,” she said. “I enjoy seeing that progression in their business.”
Flexible workspaces offer an all-encompassing space for that timeline to progress. These kinds of coworking spaces aren’t new, but post-pandemic, the ways in which they can be best used are getting some fresh perspective.
Where you want to be
In East Brunswick, Office Evolution includes 34 individual offices, a coworking lounge and five conference rooms – one of which can host up to 100 people with high-tech capabilities.
In April 2020, American Equity Partners, which owns the building, and Newmark, which handles leasing, announced more than $6 million in capital improvements for 1 Tower Center. According to Fisher, the building has that “wow” factor, greeting visitors, tenants or flex space users with a seven-story atrium lobby. “You feel like you are in New York City, but you’re actually in New Jersey,” she said. Part of the revamp for the building included adding a new amenities lounge on the 15th floor. Also located on that floor: Office Evolution.
Fisher said they knew they wanted to be centrally located. With eyes initially on New Brunswick, the workspace in East Brunswick is essentially at the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike and offers access to Routes 18 and 1. It’s still close enough to the Hub City – and its nightlife, restaurant options and train station – lending appeal, but comes without such urban drawbacks as limited parking.
“When we reached out to the building owner, they were looking for a coworking space to complement all the other amenities that they have there,” she said. Now, Office Evolution is based on “the fun floor,” offering its users immediate access to practice their golf swing in the building’s simulator, play ping-pong or PacMan, or even give a presentation in the theater. Other in-demand amenities include the newly renovated fitness center, featuring Peloton bikes and a yoga studio. “It’s fun, but also we provide a place for you to be productive, so you get the best of both worlds,” Fisher said.
The perks of the “fun floor” are also the kinds of perks that employers use to entice and engage their workers. And for workers who are remote, they can still hold that appeal.
“[E]mployees are looking for a place to work that’s closer to home,” Fisher explained. “So, if you have a business that was based in, let’s say, New York City, but they have employees that live in New Jersey, they come to us to give people an option to work closer to home. So, you’re close to home, you don’t have that long commute, but at the same time you don’t feel like you’re compromising working in a space that’s not up to par.”
Fisher said the company has been approached by a variety of corporations. With the future of what work will look like and hybrid accommodations at the forefront of most employees’ – not to mention employers’ – minds, that’s probably not surprising. Perhaps less obvious, is that hybrid workers tend to be more engaged workers. In fact, the most satisfied, according to WeWork’s “The Future of Work is Hybrid” report, prefer a just-about-equal amount of time spent across a corporate headquarters-type location, their home and other “third spaces.”
These third spaces can be a local coffee shop, a library or a coworking space.
“The takeaway here is clear,” the report states. “Employees are desperate to have a physical place to work, away from the stresses and distractions of home. They also miss all of the other perks of an office — from opportunities to socialize, to access to on-site resources and quiet spaces.”
‘Why don’t you check out franchises?’
According to Statista, in 2021 U.S. franchises produced approximately $790 billion in economic output with more than 8 million people working for such a business.
Franchise options are plentiful and run the gamut — the Garden State’s own Jersey Mike’s Subs and Huntington Learning Center highlight the breadth of diversity available. So how do you narrow it down?
Karen Fisher picked her path after meeting with a franchise consultant.
The pitch was straight-forward: Sit down for 30 minutes, we’ll talk about your likes and dislikes. After, you get an assessment of three to four franchises that could work “based on what you like to do and where you see yourself and the people you want to work with.”
Fisher said she got a call last week from a woman who works for a major corporation. She’s based in New Jersey, but the business she supports was sold to another company based out-of-state, which is now where all her coworkers are located. “She said, ‘I’ve never met with my coworkers in person. I feel like I don’t even have any social skills anymore – in person social skills – because I don’t go to work,’” Fisher recounted. The mix of available spaces at Office Evolution includes a coworking lounge: it’s not a private office and it places you among other people.
Engaging with flexible workspaces as an employee – or for your employees – can help to turn the tide on setting boundaries and promoting socialization. It can also help to cut costs for corporate customers. “You don’t have to enter a 10-year lease with a landlord,” Fisher said. “You come to us and say, ‘Look, I just need a space for a couple of months to check it out.’ If you’re good with it, you maybe go with 12 months, and then you adjust based on what you need.
“So, it gives you that flexibility to get the space that you need and free up the capital and save a lot of money,” she added.
The flexibility of terms is also appealing for freelancers. “[W]e’re in a time where a lot of people [are] exploring different things with the day job, you know, doing the freelancing thing and we really work well with freelancers that just need an office for like an hour to meet clients,” Fisher said. On the other hand, some of these workers may use the space in a more planned effort, for example, to host client meetings in a professional, physical space. “We suggest come in for a full day meet with all your clients in one day a month and you’re done.”
Beyond the space
From Fisher’s perspective, the flexibility of coworking spaces like hers extends beyond the physical structure. “I would say we don’t just rent four walls. We rent a community, or we give you access to a community of people,” she said. And part of her job as owner involves tapping into those potential synergies across workers in the space. Her work helps to cultivate that office culture that some workers may be missing. In addition to making personal introductions, Fisher’s Office Evolution also hosts events, most recently with the Woodbridge Metro Chamber of Commerce at the Metropark location.
By the numbers
- 64% — of employees would pay out of their own pocket for access to an office space
- 79% — of C-suite execs plan to let employees split their time between corporate offices and remote work, if their job allows for it
- 76% — of the C-suite say they’re likely to give employees a stipend to work from home or from a coworking space
“People got to introduce themselves. They did like a 30-second pitch and it was fun and they got to meet each other,” Fisher said of late summer event. “So that’s a way of people collaborating, getting to know who’s next door, getting to know who’s a member of the chamber. And that opens doors for them, at least they know each other. They may not need each other at this moment but they know of each other and that could help them grow their business.”
An assessment that is perhaps an appropriate description for flexible workspaces themselves. Maybe you don’t need one now, but you know more, and it could help you – no matter the size of your operation – grow.
If you need the space, Fisher says Office Evolution can get you set up within a day. Just need the room for that one day? No contract necessary; she says you pay for the time and you’re done, “then when you need it again, you just call us to make a reservation like a hotel.” Got a longer project? The options are, well, flexible. “It goes from an hour to as long as 24 [or] 36 months,” Fisher said. Because it’s a franchise, Office Evolution, in particular, offers another flexible component: nationwide access. With 74 locations across the country, if you sign up in East Brunswick but have to go to Colorado, for example, you can go to an Office Evolution in that state and get the member rate.
Like it did for Fisher, Office Evolution and other coworking options offer something new, that “third space.”
When the woman whose company moved out of state called Fisher she asked: Do you have something to offer someone like me? The answer is yes, coworking and flex spaces have something for her and – it would seem – something for everyone.