Like many who work from home, Steve Miller used to meet clients at a coffee shop. He didn’t really care for it.
“Starbucks is loud and distracting,” he said.
Miller describes himself as a business placement coach. He helps people find jobs and helps employers find the right people. When he joined the hoards of office-less workers doing business from crowded shops and other public places, it often was hard to carry on the kind of conversations he needed to have.
So he joined Roam.
At its new facility, which opened in the heart of the Perimeter business area in March, Roam offers a 16,250-square-foot collection of meeting rooms, work niches and, yes, its own coffee shop. It is designed to give its members a place that functions as an office. They can meet clients, hold company meetings or brainstorm with co-workers.
But Roam isn’t an office building in the traditional sense. Located at 1155 Mount Vernon Road, on the second floor of a mall and above an Office Depot, it’s one of several metro Atlanta facilities promising to create a new kind of office for workers learning to do business in a different way as new technologies – smartphones, laptops and ubiquitous WiFi connections – allow them to spend less time in cubicles and more time working from home or elsewhere.
To explain Roam, Peyton Day, who had been in the hotel business and is among investors in the new Roam office facility in Sandy Springs, holds up his smartphone. “This,” Day said, “changed everything in how we do work. Now that you have one of these, you can work anywhere.”
In Buckhead, Atlanta Tech Village is creating new “co-working” office spaces aimed at technology and related companies, and targeting tech start-ups. A five-story, 1980s-vintage marble-and-glass office building at 3423 Piedmont Road is now undergoing a $5 million renovation to create the new workspace.
Some companies already are at work in the partially-renovated building. Once construction is complete, the building will offer open offices where young tech entrepreneurs can work side by side, conference rooms, expandable offices for growing companies, and places where workers can get away to play ping-pong or tabletop shuffleboard, community manager Karen Houghton said during a recent tour for potential clients. “It will be a very different building,” said Houghton said.
The operators of Roam and Atlanta Tech Village say their facilities aren’t traditional office buildings. For one thing, they look more like college dorms or classroom buildings than high-rise cube farms. They offer comfy couches where workers can plop down with their laptops and places where people can write on the walls, if they want to. At Atlanta Tech Village, workers ride scooters through the building’s open hallways.
Jim Wade plans to move his new insurance business specializing in digital sales from more traditional Buckhead office space into Atlanta Tech Village after the first of the year. He hopes the environment will help him attract younger workers. “It’s as much as anything else, a recruiting tool and a place for them to work rather than a stodgy old office building,” he said.
For small business owners, the alternative office facilities promise flexibility. Roam can handle meetings ranging in size from two people to 200, Day said. Both Atlanta Tech Village and Roam sign their customers to memberships, not leases.
“People today want to keep their options open. They want to be nimble,” Day said. “You can add employees here or remove employees. It’s month to month.”
That appeals to Blake Sanchez, a 27-year-old engineer who’s CEO of a two-year-old, six-employee company. “This is our office,” he said one recent afternoon as he and his marketing director Erynne Ligeski typed away on laptops in one of Roam’s booth-like workspaces. “It’s very cost-effective. It has this flexible space.”
Sanchez said he usually meets with two or three employees at his office at Roam while his other employees work elsewhere. “We started out at my apartment, when there were just two of us,” he said. “That’s definitely not a place to meet clients. [Here,] we get a clean conference room with all sorts of high-tech stuff.”
Software subcontractor Robert Hudson said he works at Roam’s facilities four days a week because it allows him to concentrate on his job. “Instead of working from home, I work here because my daughter wouldn’t let me work at home,” he said.
The new facilities also offer business owners a chance to meet and exchange ideas with like-minded folks, their owners say. As more people work from home – and, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, a 2006 government study found that 42.6 people in the U.S. worked outside an office – some are finding that distractions such as children, dogs or housework can get in the way of their productivity.
“What we’re finding is that when you go home to work, there’s a factor called social isolation,” Day said. “When you collaborate, you become more productive.”
Jeff Thompson, a commercial real estate consultant, found that getting out of the home office helped his work. “I’m more productive when there are other people around,” he said. “Things at home can be disruptive. I get a little cabin fever.”
Now he can do his job from his virtual office. One recent afternoon, he was hard at work in a booth next to the one Sanchez, the engineer, was using as his office and just a couple of dozen feet from the one where Miller was interviewing clients. And, of course, he was just a quick walk from Roam’s in-house coffee shop.
“A lot people who walk through think this is like a coffee bar – a Starbucks with meeting rooms,” Day said. “But it’s so much more than that.”