What does community in a workplace mean now?
It’s a question we’ve been pondering over the course of 2021. In the pandemic, Zoom events took the place of in-person spaces, and remote work has allowed companies to offer employees more flexibility and space for personal care.
Many of the approaches introduced during this time out of necessity appear to be here to stay, at least in some form. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll replace the way we did things before March 2020. Rather, it’s looking more likely they’ll be incorporated alongside the pieces of the system that were working.
That’s evident at Spark Baltimore, the Cordish Companies-owned Inner Harbor coworking space in the Power Plant LIVE! complex that has served as a tech and entrepreneurship hub since opening in 2016.
After consulting its community, Spark reopened a couple months into the pandemic in June 2020 with masking and distancing restrictions in place. More than a year later, it has 146 member companies in 17 different industries. It continues to be embedded in the ecosystem. While we were visiting — masked — we saw familiar faces like EcoMap Technologies CEO Pava LaPere, who recently established the space as a base.
In a time of more vaccinations but continued vigilance about the resurgent COVID-19, Spark Baltimore Community Manager Maggie Terhune said many companies are using the shared office space to facilitate a hybrid model of working. In general throughout the city, this requires a smaller office footprint, which favors a space like Spark. Of the companies in the space, some are now embracing an “A-B” day model, where groups of team members will come in on set days to meet in-person, and make use of collaborative space like conference rooms. That’s new since the pandemic. With the ability to colocate different kinds of companies through flexible leasing models, spaces like Spark have long been figuring out the future of work. So allowing for new models comes naturally.
“The world is now talking about it in the post-COVID world, but it’s always been the norm for us,” Terhune said.
Indeed, many of the existing benefits are as relevant as ever. With hybrid work, the fact that a coworking model also offers a team to handle the amenities and logistics that come with office space is another benefit.
But the Spark team has also moved through this time with intent. They continue to send out member surveys, and hold quarterly town halls. The team is also prioritizing the one-to-one check-ins with members. They make time to ask what’s been going on, and how people are doing. It has always been an attractive model because people want to be around others, and have a chance to plug into a wider business community.
“People are craving that and are appreciative of that personal touch, especially solo entrepreneurs that don’t have a coworker in their business,” Terhune said. “Our team is that coworker to them. That has been huge in terms of not only introducing folks to the space, but we haven’t really had a lot of turnover. People want to stay.”
In fact, Spark has grown in recent years, even at a time of wider contraction in coworking, and downtown commercial real estate generally. It is now on all six floors of the building at 8 Market Place, with coworking on two floors and three floors of private offices. Another floor is dedicated solely to digital services agency Fearless, which has continued to grow and completed its renovation during the pandemic.
It has also moved into other cities. August 2020 brought a new space in Kansas City. By June 2021, it had another space in St. Louis. Each has its own local touches and feel, but it could allow for a network effect to take hold between the cities, as well. After all, in the end coworking comes down to community, as well as getting thing done. The team is looking to facilitate both.
“We’re in a sweet spot,” Terhune said. “It’s really that marriage between hospitality and entrepreneurship.”
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