When you think of the boom in coworking or flexible office spaces, you probably think of cities such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. But coworking has taken hold throughout the Midwest, too. And new coworking space pops up in these cities every day.
Just look at Populus, a new coworking space located just blocks from downtown Omaha, Nebraska. Located at 2566 Farnam Street in Omaha’s Midtown neighborhood, Populus offers 200 coworking spaces and 4,500 square feet of common area. Coworking spaces here are fully furnished and come with fast fiber Internet. Entrepreneurs and companies can also meet with clients in private conference rooms.
Like other coworking or shared office spaces, Populus offers regular speakers and events for members. Populus, though, also offers a room for nursing mothers, free cold beverages and coffee, happy hours on Thursdays and Fridays with beer and networking, a fitness center and sit-and-stand desks.
Coworking costs here vary. A basic six-month coworking plan that includes 24/7 access costs $250 a month. A six-month dedicated desk plan costs $325 a month.
Populus opened on Aug. 12, and as of early October had leased 30 percent of its space. It’s a good example of how coworking has grown in popularity across the Midwest.
Micah Yost is the founder of Populus, an entrepreneur with previous experience in marketing and branding. He said it took him several years to finally open the coworking space in Omaha, after he spent time touring shared office spaces across the United States.
Yost knew this was the right time for coworking space in Omaha. He grew up in the city and has watched as growth and interest in Omaha’s downtown has soared. He’s seen, too, the steady arrival of entrepreneurs and start-ups to this Nebraska city.
These people have long been looking for the kind of flexible work space provided by coworking, Yost said.
“As a small business owner of an agency of a few people, I know that trying to find office space for four to five people is a little bit of a racket,” Yost said. “That played into me wanting to solve those problems for small businesses and start-ups. I think there is a significant future in coworking and shared office space.”
Yost said his focus at Populus is on providing healthy work spaces, targeting individual entrepreneurs or smaller companies with from two to 20 workers. The focus on health is why Populus offers a fitness center and sit-stand desks. Populus also offers free mental health counseling for any members who want it.
Future goals? Yost does plan on opening additional coworking spaces, not just in Omaha but in other Midwest markets, providing coworking spaces that range from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet in markets such as Indianapolis, Kansas City and other large, but not gigantic, cities.
“I think this concept will have significant growth,” Yost said. “Our differentiator is that we are going to target tier 2 markets. We will offer well-funded spaces, too. It won’t just be folding chairs in a room.”
Yost and his team are now spending time educating entrepreneurs and companies about the benefits of coworking. Yost said that while coworking is a fairly new concept in general, it’s especially new in Omaha. Because of this, it does take time to illustrate the benefits of shared office space with potential tenants, Yost said.
But once Yost gets companies and individuals to tour Populus? They’re usually hooked, Yost said.
“When you say ‘coworking,’ everyone gets a different picture,” Yost said. “There are people who have visited WeWork spaces and have seen coworking on a grand scale. But some have visited what people call coworking spaces but are just a space with folding chairs and a table. Getting them into our space is the first step to getting them intrigued by what coworking can offer them.”
The next step? Populus will offer potential tenants free days to work in the space.
“If we can get them to tour it and try it, the close rate is pretty high,” Yost said. “It’s about getting them past those hurdles”
A wide variety of companies have expressed interest, or rented space, at Populus, Yost said. The space has attracted what people would consider the typical user of coworking space, 20-something entrepreneurs focused on building start-ups. But other companies have toured and leased space with Populus, Yost said.
This includes medium- to larger-sized businesses with 200 to 300 employees and non-profit organizations. So far, Yost said, the average age of the small business owners who are leasing space at Populus is 40 to 45.
“A good portion of the people who are here are early adopters who are leasing space in our business because it is new and interesting,” Yost said. “The other large group is made up of companies and individuals who feel the need for flexible work space. That is such a significant issue for a large number of companies.”
One company renting space at Populus is renovating its main space and needs to rotate groups of employees to a different space throughout the year. That’s where Populus comes in. Other companies expect future growth and are leasing coworking space now so that they won’t have to jump to a new space once they hire more employees.
“The flexibility is the piece that is changing,” Yost said. “That need for flexibility is bringing many people here. They come here because they know we do month-to-month leases or six-month terms. That provides them with the flexibility they need. They can quickly jump in and jump out if they need to.”
Yost said that he expects the demand for coworking to only increase in the coming years. Part of the reason? Technology is changing so quickly that it’s becoming ever more easy for employees to work off site or across the globe. Shared office space is perfect for such workers.
At the same time, companies grow much faster today than they have in the past. As Yost says, companies start, grow, scale and go to public offerings in just a few years now. Flexible work space is important for companies that are growing so quickly that their office needs are constantly in flux.
“This idea that a company will stay in this brick-and-mortar space without ever changing is becoming less and less of a thing,” Yost said.