Office Re-Evolution: With more telecommuters than ever, co-working spaces are adapting

Office Evolution is a shared workspace at Southlands.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

When a mortgage lender, a lawyer and a chiropractor walk into 6105 S. Main St. in Aurora’s Southlands Shopping Center, it isn’t the butt of a trite barroom joke. 

On the contrary, it’s a quotidian affair at the local location of Office Evolution, a nearly 7-year-old co-working space with some two dozen office spaces of various sizes occupied by professionals of myriad vocations. 

And while thousands of professionals have remained sequestered to ad hoc home offices and nationally recognized co-working enterprises have shuttered locations in the past year, Aurora business owners have continued to use their access fabs to move in and out of the 9,100-square-foot Southland space throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ryan Coburn, owner of the local Office Evolution location. 

Membership and revenues have stayed essentially flat at the commercial hub over the past year, Coburn said, with a slight dip in physical attendance at the office as the pandemic surged in spring 2020. However, most tenants maintained their leases and many continued coming to the building, which was permitted to remain open as an official source of business mail, according to Coburn.

But a demand for smaller and more flexible workspace has prompted the Office Evolution franchise owner to launch a remodeling effort at his location that will add several “micro” offices to keep people apart in personalized spaces. 

“There is a demand for smaller offices,” he said. “Our large training room was designed for groups of 15 to 30 and certainly with COVID, we know meetings like that are not necessarily going to happen any time soon.”

The remodel will bring the number of offices at Coburn’s location to 29, with monthly rental rates starting at about $700 a month. Members get access to office supplies like printers and copiers, a receptionist and several other locations across the Front Range if they need to travel for work. Hourly rates are also available.

The set-up has been a no-brainer for Kelly Florendo, a branch manager for a national mortgage company who has maintained a spot at Office Evolution for about the past five years. He rents one office for himself and a handful of employees, and snags additional space as-needed  depending on how many of his nearly 50 loan officers are around on any given day. 

“Instead of having this massive, fixed overhead you do it on a pay-as-needed basis,” he said. “ … I think everything is going to be pushed more toward this idea where you have 20 offices in one space, but you only rent one of them because you need a physical location, like in our case to issue government loans.”

His commute — which until a recent move to Parker was just a few minutes from his Aurora home — also beats his former slog to the consistently jammed Denver Tech Center, he said. Despite his recent move farther south, Florendo said he plans to continue to anchor his business in south Aurora in the coming years. 

Kevin Hougen, president of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, said he believes Office Evolution’s layout with individual spaces that are cordoned off from one another make the location more desirable than the open-floor arrangements of some competitors. 

“I think they have a model that will probably regroup (from COVID-19) faster than maybe the open bullpen layout that is faced with some challenges,” he said.

Hougen said workers across Aurora are slowly trickling back to their commercial offices, though it may take years to properly gauge how many people return, if at all. 

“A lot of people are still paying their leases, but it’s hard to track how many employees are actually there,” he said. 

Across the metro area, Hougen said commercial vacancy rates are currently hovering around 17%, approaching double what they were at the start of 2020. 

“After the pandemic there will be a shrinking of office space,” he said. 

Still, Coburn said he remains bullish on his location in south Aurora given the need for suburban workers to maintain some semblance of work-life balance. 

“There’s an appeal for folks already in the suburbs,” he said. “With closures of their offices downtown or in the DTC, they’re now working at home alongside kids and spouses, so there is an appeal to be near enough but separate.”