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‘Gray space’ a growing factor in office leasing

As co-working companies continue to grow and WeWork eats up more space, the black-and-white division of working from home and working at the office is seeing shades of gray.

Design and architecture executives with CoreNet Global recently held a discussion about the concept of the in-between space where people get work done that’s neither at the office nor at home — what they call “gray space.”

The panel, held at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan, covered the topic of gray space and how it has grown over the years, why it has grown, and what that means for the future of traditional office market leasing.

While batting around ideas about what to discuss at the panel, the term “gray space” was actually coined by Ross Adam Cole, an architect and co-founder of BAM Architecture Studio.

“If we go back before the iPhone and ubiquitous phone connectivity, people were either at home working or at the office working, there wasn’t much in-between,” Cole told Real Estate Weekly. “What’s transpired since then, is that people are working in all kinds of unconventional environments where they’re collaborating, whereas before that, it was much more binary.”

New technology is the obvious driver of the newer kinds of work environments, and shared, collaborative office spaces that encourage and foster innovation and working together have quickly becoming popular alternatives to traditional office space.

“A lot of companies are intentionally trying to work in messy environments,” said Cole. “By that I mean non-traditional lease terms, and an environment where people are trying to create messiness which leads to innovation.”

Earlier this year, Cushman & Wakefield released a report that showed Manhattan alone has 5.3 million s/f of shared office space, while Brooklyn has about 1 million s/f, with an additional 400,000 s/f on track for the future. There are 53 different co-working companies in Brooklyn alone, and at least 70 in Manhattan.

With coworking companies taking such a big bit of NYC’s commercial real estate, Cole doesn’t see the trend going away any time soon, but instead evolving even further.

“I think everyone believes that we’re going to continue to see the boundaries blurred between what people consider to be their office and common space, or someone else’s office.”

Cole pointed to the concept of “campuses” rather than just a stand-alone building; Rockefeller Center may have been the first in NYC to be a series of buildings intended to be one big working place, with newer iterations like Brookfield Place, Hudson Yards, and even Cornell Tech to follow.

“There’s much more interest from people leasing space on what is truly around them to foster that ability to collaborate,” said Cole. “That combined with technology becoming easier to use in place.”

Cole pointed to technology advances like virtual desktops, more USB ports popping up in green spaces, and other advances that will enable people to be connected in a gray space.

But what about traditional industries like corporate law or finance, where traditional office space and formal attire are still the status quo?

“I think the only reason they are the laggards is because those are the most long and well-established industries and the most successful, so by human nature they are the least inspired to change from what they’re doing,” said Cole. “But if we look at what law firms and banks are doing, they are continuing to try and find ways to be more competitive, they are seeing that need to innovate, a lot of that is creating disruption.”

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