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Texas expert: Coworking in Houston isn't going away — it's evolving

Austin-based Firmspace opened its Houston location last year. Courtesy of Firmspace

Before the pandemic, Houston coworking demand mirrored that of the rest of the country: shared space was booming, new operators were opening up. Demand was growing in Houston, as it was in other markets.

When the pandemic arrived in Houston last spring, the city was hit with a crisis on two fronts: local public health challenges due to the arrival of COVID-19 were further complicated by a downturn in the price of oil and gas industry — the literal fuel of this city's dominant industry.

But coworking hasn't faded away as office spaces closed or reduced capacity – it's evolved. In fact, the ongoing pandemic has accelerated this changing space and pushed operators to adapt their offerings to meet the market's needs. The result in Houston is the emergence of three major trends that we expect to see persist beyond 2021.

Increased demand for private offices

According to a recent report from JLL, up to 70 percent of all office spaces were primarily or partially open plan in design by the first quarter of 2020. But few of us want to sit in an open plan office with a dozen other masked professionals while fielding Zoom calls, but working from home isn't an option for those who lack the space and privacy they need to effectively work from home.

This combination of pandemic-related stressors has driven more Houstonians to seek out private office space for rent. The basic requirements in the pandemic era look slightly different than what we might have observed a year ago. Professionals want:

  • Private office spaces with doors that close and lock
  • Walls that provide privacy and noise insulation
  • Secure IT infrastructure, chiefly high-speed internet access
  • Enhanced cleaning protocols in common spaces and high-touch areas
  • Closed ventilation loops and as much clean air piped in from the outdoors as possible

And coworking spaces are doing their best to deliver this calm, safe environment where busy professionals can come to do focused work.

More short-term arrangements

The future has never looked more uncertain to professionals and leadership in all sectors. Here at the end of 2020, many companies that have paid nearly nine months of rent on office space that they've been unable to safely use are weighing the benefits of breaking their years-long commercial leases.

Companies are not sure what the structure of their teams will be in three months, nevermind three years, and this is changing how leaders think about their real estate contracts. In this climate, many are turning to coworking spaces that offer six- and 12-month contracts with furnishes and IT infrastructure in place to lighten their financial commitments to physical spaces.

The other trend in short-term leasing that local coworking spaces have embraced is the day office. Given that many of us are planning to work at least part-time from our home offices for the near future, coworking spaces have spotted the opportunity to offer a pay-per-day model to engage professionals that only need a break from the home office one or two days a week.

A private office as a status symbol

The office used to be where we went to get away from home five days a week. For members of traditional coworking spaces in the startup and tech industries, the office often felt like an incubator where spontaneous connections happened.

But in light of the pandemic, private office space has become a refuge where professionals go to feel safe, achieve focused work, and execute sensitive tasks with assurance that they have a level of privacy that can't be achieved at home.

Whether you're looking to speak with clients or prospective employees remotely, private office space and polished meeting rooms have also come to be a status symbol. A video call with chic design elements visible in the background of their office space communicates something powerful – the people in those chairs are invested in the time they spend at work.


Moving into 2021, Houstonians are ready to return to work. Even before the pandemic arrived, commercial real estate was beginning to see that the future of work will be more flexible and more often remote than it was in the past. While we're not through this crisis yet, many professionals are already looking for a new kind of private office arrangement, and local coworking operators are working to deliver the space these Houstonians need.

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Anish Michael is the CEO of Austin-based Firmspace, which has a 32,000-square-foot space in BBVA Compass Plaza in Houston.

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Building Houston

 
 

Fertitta and his family have gifted $50 million to UH's medical school. Photo courtesy

As Houston’s most high-profile billionaire and owner of the posh 5-star Post Oak Hotel and Houston Rockets, Tilman J. Fertitta has become synonymous with over-the-top opulence and big-time entertainment.

But the CEO of the massive Feritta Entertainment empire’s latest move has nothing to do with penthouses or point guards, but rather a legacy, game-changing appropriation meant to aid his home state’s health.

The longtime UH board member and former chairman and his family have just pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine. In turn, the new medical school has been christened the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.

The projected school, upon completion. Rendering courtesy of University of Houston

This landmark gift aims to address the state’s critical primary care physician shortage, (especially in low-income and underserved communities), as well as attract innovation-focused scholars, UH notes.

Additionally, the grant is meant to further clinical and translational research, with an emphasis on population health, behavioral health, community engagement, and the social determinants of health, according to a press release.

Here is how the Fertitta family gift will be distributed:

  • $10 million funds five endowed chairs for faculty hires who are considered national stars in their fields with a focus on health care innovation. This portion of the gift will be matched one-to-one as part of the University’s “$100 Million Challenge” for chairs and professorships, doubling the endowed principal to $20 million.
  • $10 million establishes an endowed scholarship fund to support endowed graduate research stipends/fellowships for medical students.
  • $10 million will cover start-up costs for the Fertitta Family College of Medicine to enhance research activities including facilities, equipment, program costs and graduate research stipends/fellowships.
  • $20 million will create the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund to support research-enhancing activities.

No stranger to writing big checks, Fertitta donated $20 million to UH Athletics — the largest individual donation ever — in 2016 to transform UH’s basketball arena into the now high-tech Fertitta Center.

CultureMap caught up with the CEO (who just sold his Golden Nugget gaming for $1.6 billion), best-selling author, and Billion Dollar Buyer to discuss his landmark gift.

CultureMap: Congratulations on this legacy grant, which has been a long time coming. What does this gift mean to you, now that it’s finally official?

Tilman Fertitta: This was a vision of our chancellors and, you know, I’m on my third, six-year term and not been the chairman for eight years — and we started working on this, seven, eight years ago.

To be able to be in the beginning and the nucleus, and the idea, and what we wanted, and to get the approval from Austin—to watch it come to fruition, how often does somebody get to do a naming gift at the same time they had a lot to do with the creation of the school? So, it was very special in my heart.

CM: Many know you as the CEO of a hospitality empire, author, and even TV personality. But not many know of your commitment to healthcare.


TF: I think there’s one thing in this world that we definitely should always be treated equally on, and that's that’s equal health care for all. This medical school will serve the whole community.

We’re trying to recruit students who want to be primary physicians who will take care of the community that we live in. It’s just something that was very important to me in my whole family.

CM: Academia, scholarship, and research aside, this could essentially be looked at as seed capital for a fledgling operation. Is that a fair assessment?

TF: I know where you’re going with this and yes, it’s no different than business.

I have the vision to know that being in nearly the third largest city in America and a top 100 university in the United States — as University of Houston is according to U.S. News & World Report — that I know what this is going to be in 50 years. It’s no different than looking at another business that you start and you can have the vision to see how successful it'll be in the years to come.

Being on the ground floor of the University of Houston Medical School and being a part of it from its inception, and to help the seed money that will attract other money, I know that in the years to come what a special nationwide medical school this is going to be — because it’s in one of the great cities of America.

So, to be a part of it today and still be a part of it when I’m not here 50 years from now, maybe even sooner than that [laughs], you know, it’s going to be something very special to always be attached to.

CM: Other Houston medical schools here have distinctions in pivotal research or groundbreaking procedures. Is there a specific direction you’d like UH Med to take, going forward?

TF: Honestly, you know, what I’ve been saying? There’s a significant shortage of primary care physicians, not only in the country, but in the state of Texas. We ranked number 47th in the nation.

What we need in the state of Texas, as well in Houston and everywhere, is primary care physicians to take care of your everyday people—and to see them to know if you need a specialist.

I hope that this medical school looks back and we see that they’re graduating more primary care physicians than any other university in the United States and that's our goal. We’re going to be a med school of the community.

CM: You have zero problem with issuing directives, Tilman. What’s your message to the first graduating class, the one that will initially benefit from this $50 million gold mine?

TF: Go out and take care of the people.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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