When Shannon Wilbanks and Joe Erwin, managing partners of Endeavor, left their advertising firm in 2015, they collaborated on how they could provide an office-working environment with the energy, technology and training opportunities that they could get at larger agencies but weren’t able to access being in business as a sole proprietor or small business.
It was out of this concept that they realized they were talking about coworking.
“We hadn’t planned on being in the coworking game,” said Wilbanks. “It really grew out of that (concept). Our mission is to do whatever we can to help our members succeed, and that’s coming from a very genuine place.”
Coworking is the use of a collaborative workspace that offers an alternative way to work. In coworking spaces, people work independently or in groups to complete projects. This concept is popular, because it provides a sense of community and a conducive working atmosphere you wouldn’t be able to receive if working for a larger company.
And the popularity of collaborative work environments is skyrocketing in a post-COVID world, as the pandemic changed the very nature of how people think about the workplace, with remote work and hybrid setups becoming the norm.
“It was invigorating to see all these people just trying to work their jobs and all with the attitude of ‘I’m going to figure it out’ despite COVID challenges,” Wilbanks said.
As Wilbanks and Erwin got into the coworking industry, Wilbanks said they realized there is a broad spectrum of people who need that type of work environment. Whether someone works at a small business and needs 24/7 access to their office, to entrepreneurs and sole proprietors, to people who work remotely for another company who don’t need a private office but a single workspace, to people who love working from home but want to get out of the house one day a week, or sole business travelers.
Endeavor opened in May 2016 and is a membership-based coworking community allowing for a space for a diverse range of peers who offer varying services and experiences in addition to providing training opportunities, networking events and business consulting for business professionals.
Wilbanks said they decided on the Greenville One Center space in downtown Greenville for this coworking vision, because it is ideally located in the heart of downtown with 24/7 doorman security, LEED-certified features, and the space also has a private gym for members.
“People light up when they step off our elevator and into our space, pleasantly surprised at what we have here,” she added.
‘THE FUTURE’ OF WORKPLACES
Ramon Nieves-Lugo, president of Unicomm Media Group, founded and leads a successful Hispanic marketing agency of 12 employees, and has had a daytime membership at Endeavor almost since its inception.
For Nieves-Lugo, he said his main purpose for choosing coworking as his choice of office space versus a traditional office setting was the cost benefit.
“We originally had an office for a few members, but it has changed since COVID and everyone doesn’t work at the office anymore,” he said. “Commercial space is also expensive, especially being in downtown. The appeal of this space is high since its in a prime location, especially for sole proprietors and small businesses. The opportunity to connect with other individuals in the area is there, too.”
Even if a business has a lot of employees, said Nieves-Lugo, but doesn’t need a 30,000 square foot office space, this coworking option may suit them as well.
“It seems this type of working is the future,” he added.
Every company’s journey is different, said Wilbanks.
“The interesting thing about coworking, especially if you’re in an office, is people are increasingly putting a higher value on their time and living their lives while weighing the cost of rent for their office spaces. You pay one monthly payment if you have an office here, that covers your office, the internet, the coffee, the cleaning, office machines, everything you need. So not only are those things you would have to otherwise pay separately, it frees you up to do the things only you can do, because we have all those other expenses covered, which takes off the administrative burden to some degree.”
Endeavor Greenville isn’t the only coworking concept in the city that sees similar inquiries with not only local entrepreneurs and sole proprietors but remote employees in industries such as web and tech, too.
AN ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET
Back in 2007, Atlas Local managing partner and tech entrepreneur Chris Merritt said he and his managing partners just needed office spaces at the time. They had no idea the co-op they created would lead to operating a coworking business, which still doesn’t even seem like a business to Merritt, he said. In 2016, they moved into one of the renovated loft apartment mill buildings in the West End of Greenville, West Village Lofts, in which their members have access to the full amenities the property has to offer.
“Although we have grown, we still like to keep that co-op vibe,” said Merritt, who has a desk in the general space versus a private office. “Sure, my name is on the lease, but everyone here is an equal.”
Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who aren’t your coworkers is an ideal, best-case scenario for him and other members, Merritt said.
“When I want to disengage from work, I’m in an environment where I can easily do that (versus a traditional office setting),” he said. “If I’m burnt out and want to make a pot of coffee or sit and draw on the couch, there is no one there to bother me about some report that is due or something like that.”
Because Atlas Local is attached to residential units, members could cut out of work early and go to the pool or play a game of cornhole or pool after work as well as the ability to host networking events.
“I’ve always held the opinion that this is a sustainable approach to work, one that I personally want, along with the younger generations entering the workforce,” he said. Being a part of a fun work environment with autonomy leads to greater work productivity, in Merritt’s opinion.
Humans need to be around other humans, but only being around each other because of your place of employment isn’t necessarily the healthiest model, said Merritt.
More people are getting pushed into contract roles or going off to start their own businesses and having fewer W-2 employees, said Merritt, and fewer people want to have that traditional full-time job.
“Being around other people who share your passions also encourages entrepreneurial mindsets,” he added. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t surround myself with people like that. Our community here tends to organically work with each other, not something we push, it just sort of happens and it makes sense as you’re around other intelligent and creative people.”
Another aspect of remote work and coworking is allowing for the opportunity to hire from anywhere. Merritt said for the average job these days, people can work remotely, which in turn doesn’t allow physical proximity to limit the talent pool.
“Limiting your company to only hiring employees that are able to drive to your physical office, I think that mindset will be completely gone in the coming years,” he added. “I see less and less of it.”
A SPACE FOR EVERYONE
Coworking spaces in Columbia run the gamut from smaller spaces in historic buildings to large buildings that have been converted from traditional offices to coworking locations.
There is something for everyone. FemmeX, a coworking space and social club dedicated mainly to woman-owned startups and entrepreneurs is located at 1501 Richland St.
SOCO offers coworking at two locations: SOCO 80808, located in 11,000 square feet of space inside a post-industrial building at 808 Lady St., and SOCO BullStreet, inside a historic building in the BullStreet District, one of the city’s hottest growing residential and business communities.
One of the largest coworking spaces in Columbia belongs to Expansive, a Chicago-based company founded in 2012 that currently offers coworking and other flexible workspace options at 48 locations nationwide. In the Carolinas, the company has offices in Charlotte and Columbia.
Expansive purchased the 12-story building at 1122 Lady St. in 2021 and currently offers a variety of work options in 159,013 square feet of space. The site includes everything from SmartSuites, high-tech office spaces for large teams, and smaller rental office spaces to a variety of options for smaller businesses and individual workers.
Jeff Barnes, Expansive’s area sales manager for the Carolinas, said customers at the Midlands office come from every age, demographic and career type.
“I have everyone from students who just can’t get their work done in their dorm to businesses whose workers are working remote, to startups,” Barnes said. “We see a little bit of everything. We have insurance companies, law firms, tech companies, you name it using our spaces. If you can do business from a laptop, you can use a coworking space."
Like most coworking spaces, Expansive offers an option where customers can pay for simple access to a table or couch in one of the building’s open lounge spaces, which includes high-speed internet and access to copiers and other office equipment.
Sharing space doesn’t seem to be a problem for too many, according to Barnes.
“Our dedicated desks are sold out right now,” he said. “It’s our most popular option because members always have access to the space. It just depends on their schedule and when they want to do business.”
Barnes believes coworking will only continue to expand as people who got used to working from home during the pandemic seek other options rather than a commute to the same office every day.
“The age of the traditional workspace is starting to go away because people are realizing the amount of money it takes to rent an entire building, outfit it and get people to come to a traditional workspace,” he said. “That’s just not what people are wanting anymore.”
A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
In contrast to Endeavor and Atlas Local, FemmeX, and in comparison to Expansive, Industrious is a national coworking firm that is opening a location on King Street in Charleston, which is slated to open in early December.
Melissa Besler, a South Carolina native and regional director for the Midwest and Southeast Industrious locations, said the company wants to provide other companies and employees with a space that is unique and inspiring.
“Charleston is a fast-growing business community, and we believe our surroundings can greatly impact the way people work,” said Besler. “We want to support that concept in building and changing the way people work. We want to adapt as a community grows, which looks different in each community we serve.”
Like the other coworking company mentalities, Besler said COVID accelerated a lot of trends we were already seeing, but there has been a fundamental change in the way people choose to work now.
“People want more autonomy, wanting to make their own hours. With coworking, you have the flexibility and a place you can go,” she said. “People also don’t want to commute long distances anymore and want to physically go to work fewer days.”
The new Industrious location and building is attached to a bike shop and yoga studio and boasts a premium and sleek, modern design in Charleston’s Historic District, said Besler. The workspace will take up the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Class A building at 677 King Street, featuring abundant natural light and best-in-class amenities designed to make for more productive workdays — every day.
Industrious has memberships built for hybrid workers, so that you can get the space you need whether you’re coming into the office once a week or once a month.
“It is highly unlikely that we see people get back to the norm, an eight-to-five type of work environment, always in the office,” said Besler.
SC Biz News reporter Christina Lee Knauss contributed to this story.