Networking Through Boston’s Coworking Sector

Workbar CEO Sarah Travers examines the sector through the eyes of a homegrown company and discusses building firm relationships in relaxed environments.
Sarah Travers, CEO, Workbar.
Sarah Travers, CEO, Workbar. Image courtesy of Workbar

Coworking has become a major driver of change in today’s real estate landscape, approaching traditional strategies with a more flexible mindset. As of last year, there was more than 26.9 million square feet of coworking space across 20 major markets in the U.S., Yardi Matrix data shows. Although today the bulk is still concentrated in the core of large metros, there’s still a lot of untapped potential in the suburbs.

In tech-dominated mammoth markets such as Manhattan, Seattle, Boston and the Bay Area, coworking is dubbed as the new normal. Boston’s flexible space inventory encompasses some 4.4 million square feet, with WeWork and CIC taking up the largest share. Then there are local heroes such as Workbar, which launched in 2009 and currently operates nine locations across Massachusetts. CEO Sarah Travers discusses how network partnerships drive expansion as well as her company’s business strategy.

How do you identify new locations for your brand?

Travers: Our newest location in Burlington, Mass., has proven to be our winning formula, as it combines our coworking nerve center with its trademark neighborhood layout and our independently branded managed suites. 

Our strategy is to provide this flexible workspace solution for companies in all stages of growth—from solopreneurs to startups, small businesses and now large corporations. We’re opening a new flagship Boston location in Downtown Crossing in September and from there we are going to continue to expand our suburban footprint.

Elaborate on how your company’s community-building efforts and network partnerships blend with your business plan.

Travers: Our business plan revolves around our mission to create a member-driven community that enables smart, creative, engaged professionals to do their best work. We form partnerships with the intent of adding value to our members’ life. For example, our partnership with DCU Fintech gives our members access to a vibrant startup community in downtown Boston that fosters the fintech community. The innovation center at Framingham State University gives our members access to a coworking space on the FSU campus with other like-minded entrepreneurs.

We recently launched a partnership with San Francisco-based Brex, a company that offers a smart, no-frills corporate credit for startups. By giving this type of resources to our members, we are building a unique experience and supporting their growth. The model we have created accomplishes two of our goals: to foster innovation and community and to provide a dense network of locations.

Workbar Back Bay. Image courtesy of Workbar
Workbar Back Bay. Image courtesy of Workbar

What makes Workbar-operated spaces stand out from other coworking locations?

Travers: We have taken your typical urban coworking model and have flattened it and spread it across a region. We are strategically expanding our portfolio with the intent of having a Workbar location within 20 minutes of where people live.

From a physical perspective, our space is 80 percent open and 20 percent private. That’s the opposite of other coworking operations. Our open space is thoughtfully designed for activity-based productivity in what we call our coworking nerve center. It’s a delicate mix of coworking neighborhoods, phone rooms, meeting spaces, collaboration areas and private offices.

Workbar is also the first and only coworking space in the world to achieve the WELL certification by International WELL Building Institute. Our team believes that in order to be functional and productive, our members’ health and wellness should be optimized at work.

What are your company’s short- and long-term plans?

Travers: Our short-term plan is to round out our regional density in Greater Boston. Our long-term plan is to roll this model out on a national level.

How do you think the Boston office/coworking market performed in the past quarters and how do you see it going forward?

Travers: The Boston market has continued to perform strongly and there is still plenty of more room for it to grow. Going forward, I do not see a slowdown. There is such high demand, even from our existing membership base, to open more locations.

Flexibility used to be about working from home one or two days a week. Now it’s about working from Workbar Burlington in the morning to avoid heavy commuting times, heading downtown for a meeting at Workbar Back Bay and then ending the day back at Workbar Burlington to be closer to home. Our lives are busy and we are becoming better at making our days as efficient as possible. There is also something very valuable about having the opportunity to work remotely, but not actually working from your home.