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Alan Dessoff: No office the office of the future?

As executive director of the nonprofit Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare, Ronald Hearn needs a small office and conference room, but not all the time.

He is able to secure the space when he needs it by renting it for $30 an hour — sometimes less — through, on Koppers Street.

“Small space is hard to find, and I can call there and set aside space any time I want,” Hearn said.

The price is discounted depending on the number of consecutive hours he rents it at one time. also can provide virtual office support services, including a receptionist who answers the phone in the name of Heam’s organization, and copying and collating documents and other back-office tasks.

“They’re like a business incubator. They’ll manage all your needs,” Hearn said.

“We don’t market short-term use as heavily as we market our long-term office, but I am sensing that short-term rentals will become more prevalent,” said Kimberly Stevens, co-owner of She said many professional, white-collar firms — lawyers and accountants — as well as businesses and nonprofits, might have had their own offices previously but under economic pressures are finding new ways to reduce costs, sometimes through employees’ working from home.

“They come here for regular face-to-face meetings or use our conference room to meet with clients. I think there’s going to be an upswing in that,” Stevens said.

“With the turn in the economy, there has been an increased demand” for short-term rental options, Leslie Keenan, managing partner of Intelligent Office of Rockville, agreed.

As some companies downsize, she said, “a lot of executives have left the big companies and gone off on their own and started their own businesses. They don’t want to pay a huge overhead when they don’t need all that space full time, so they rent on an hourly basis. It’s the perfect solution for them, especially for entrepreneurs who are … not sure how their business is going to do.”

There’s an office for that

Some facilities provide inexpensive rental space to accommodate specific business sectors. For $13 an hour, massage therapists, acupuncturists and related professionals can rent treatment rooms in The Center Annapolis.

“It’s useful to practitioners of one-on-one services because they get the space they need and don’t have to sign a year’s lease,” said Sheri Barnes, who co-owns the building with her husband, Patrick. She said practitioners who rent space there must prove that they are licensed and insured.

Recognizing the growing interest of tenants for short-term rentals of less space, owners of some brick-and-mortar commercial buildings for rent in the Baltimore area are changing their leasing policies, said Terri Harrington, vice president of MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services.

“Brokers listing downtown office space know that the average tenant in the market is probably looking for 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, and they don’t want to commit to a long-term lease. It’s usually a small startup or a nonprofit, and five years can be an intimidating lease term for them,” Harrington said.

Reduce overhead, trim costs

Some landlords are “building out space more efficiently,” tightening the ratio of square footage to people in an office and allowing the space to be used for more cubicles and open areas rather than larger individual offices, Harrington said. At some law firms, where space previously was allotted at up to 350 square feet per partner, space searches are now based on a tighter ratio, she said.

Kevin Wille, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis in Baltimore, cited a “rule of thumb” of about 200 square feet per person. He suggested that, the economy being what it is, now might be a good time for tenants to consider signing longer-term leases at lower rates.

“It’s like stocks — you want to buy low and sell high. So if rental rates are low, why not lock in for a lengthy period?” he said.

A trend he is seeing now, he added, is the “flight to quality,” as tenants upgrade from Class B to Class A buildings to take advantage of better space now available at lower rates.

Economic factors aside, technology continues to change rental practices by making it possible for more people “to work virtually and not be tied to an office all the time,” Keenan said.

Thomas Brown, a Rockville-based solo practitioner, rents space at Intelligent Office for as little as a half-hour to a half-day, maybe twice a week, usually to meet with clients. Doing so beats paying rents that are “pretty high if you want to have your own office” close to the courthouses in downtown Rockville, Brown said.

Otherwise, Brown works from his nearby home. He said he saves even more money by not having to furnish an office and “hire somebody to answer the phones.”

Intelligent Office does that job for him, as well as a wide range of other “virtual office” services. Its hourly rates start at $20 for a standard office or conference room that seats six people, Keenan said.

“It works perfectly for us,” said Andrea Jolly, executive director and the only full-time employee of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, which also uses Intelligent Office’s space, both physical and virtual. Jolly works mostly from home and spends “maybe half a day a week” at IO, coming in to pick up mail or meet with board members and clients.

“With the phone systems we have, a client who calls you won’t know you are not in an office,” Keenan said. “You could be sitting on a beach somewhere and we’ll just transfer the call to you. That’s the beauty of technology and where it’s going. It’s the wave of the future.”

One comment

  1. Having started my own law firm in a similar \incubator\ environment nearly 20 years ago, I recently purchased and renovated office space in Historic Reisterstown which now offers similar services for attorneys and other professionals seeking similar accommodations. This allows professionals to meet with clients, use conference room, fax and copying services, access high-speed internet, and other amenities on an as-needed basis. You may learn more about this at, or just email me and I’ll be pleased to get you what you need.