By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun
8:50 PM EDT, June 3, 2013
Technology company Hope LoanPort could have signed a conventional lease for its new headquarters in Baltimore.
But the nonprofit doesn't work in a conventional way. Its 10 employees live in three states. Some work at home part-time but need office space to meet with clients or review documents. Sometimes a few employees need to meet in an office to work on a presentation. And the company's growth makes it difficult to gauge when it will need more space or how much more.
Hope chose a relatively new but growing option, a "flexible workplace" center. The company is moving this week into such a space, a Regus business center opening Thursday on the 23rd floor of the Legg Mason Tower in Harbor East.
Regus, which calls itself the world's largest provider of flexible workplaces, is expanding fast in the Baltimore area, capitalizing on the growing need of workers and employers alike for more options in where and how people work.
Regus, which operates 650 locations in the United States, including a center on Pratt Street downtown, rents office space by the day, week, month or year. The Luxembourg-based company opened centers this year in Pikesville, Annapolis and Silver Spring. Centers also have opened over the past year in Columbia, Frederick and National Harbor in Prince George's County.
Employers can choose from a variety of packages offering different levels of access to different kinds of office space.
The setup in Harbor East offers workers and employees everything from fully furnished private offices and suites to shared offices to cubicles with a place to plug in a laptop. The center comes with amenities for all clients — a lounge stocked with coffee and tea, conference rooms with video conferencing and administrative staffers who can answer phones, take minutes, order supplies, ship packages or help create PowerPoint presentations.
"Regus really allowed us to be able to operate the way we do," said Samantha Friedman, director of product development and delivery for Hope LoanPort, which connects housing counselors, struggling homeowners and mortgage servicers to programs online. While the long-distance employees need the flexibility to work at home, she said, "with so much going on, it's tough when we can't see each other face-to-face."
The Legg Mason center opens Thursday with 77 private offices, including three suites, and 12 percent occupancy of its permanent offices, said Nita Young, the center's general manager. Another center, the 11th in Maryland, will open next week in Hunt Valley.
"Most of our growth is happening because of the work shift trend of employees working more in a mobile environment," said Kimberly Hoover, marketing director for the Regus Washington metro market, which includes Maryland. "Technology has allowed employees to work more mobile. And when somebody is working mobile, it's reducing a lot of overhead."
Hoover said Regus' concept is based on "providing companies with any type of flexible solution they may need."
One package, geared toward mobile workers, allows someone to drop in to any Regus facility to use the business lounge, equipped with seating, laptop ports and flat-screen TVs, for $19 a month. A "virtual office," popular with home-based businesses, offers a fixed number of monthly visits, use of an office, the address and phone answering services.
Some employers rent one or more offices for satellite locations, Hoover said. In the Baltimore area, rent starts at $499 a month for use of a cubicle in the co-working area to $899 a month for a private office.
Flexible business centers appeal to employers looking to cut long commutes with satellite offices, and to those with scattered home-based employees who need to collaborate in a business setting, said Rose Stanley, work-life practice leader for human resources association WorldatWork. And the idea is gaining traction as the commercial real estate market improves, she said.
Flexible work centers "serve not only employers' needs but contract employees' needs as well that need an official office space," Stanley said.
Three-year-old Hope LoanPort, which is moving its permanent office to the Regus Legg Mason center from a Regus center in Washington, has used Regus packages that gave it access to centers in Philadelphia and on Pratt Street. At Harbor East, the company is renting three full-time offices: a private one for the CEO, one for Friedman that she will use for meetings and another that will be shared by two employees. The company plans to continue using Regus virtual office arrangements in D.C. and Philadelphia.
"It has really allowed my team to be able to function," Friedman said. "We could meet in Baltimore one day, meet in Philly one day or split up. We could live where we wanted to live, but we had to have face time to get stuff done. With the virtual offices, it's a huge thing for us."
The concept also allows the company the future flexibility it needs.
"Hopefully, we will hire additional people, and we can get additional offices," she said. "You don't have to go out and find new space. It's just which office can we add to the contract."
She said she initially worried "how would you deal with a virtual office when you don't have your stuff there? But the staff is awesome. They take care of everything."
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