Lance A. Benson
Lance A. Benson (J. Albert Diaz)

Sometime before the turn of the last century, at a time when email was still a novel way of doing business and many executives saw a private office with a secretary as a hallmark of career success, Laura Kozelouzek was trying to sell a service that many of her clients were ashamed to purchase.

Kozelouzek, who’s been working with companies that offer shared office space leases since the 1990s, is chief executive of her own concern, Quest Workspaces Management Inc.

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“Back in, say, the early ’90s, people would have been embarrassed to work in a place like this,” she told the Daily Business Review, seated at a space her company operates inside Brickell’s Espirito Santo Plaza. “It was seen as showing that you weren’t really a credible business because you didn’t have your own space. It’s interesting that it’s now sort of become in vogue to work this way.”

Kozelouzek isn’t just tooting her company’s horn. A slowly improving economy and changing perceptions of a professional office environment have increasingly made it popular for companies big and small to lease shared office suites.

“We’re seeing a lot of creative spaces and entrepreneurs taking a lot of office space,” said Scott Strickland, executive vice president at broker JLL, formerly Jones Lang LaSalle. “If you see LabMiami and Quest, those are popular. And it’s not just the entrepreneurs. It’s the big companies that want to test the waters.”

Quest, which has seven sites in South Florida including its latest addition in Doral is second in terms of coverage to industry leader Regus, which operates several dozen business centers in the region. Several independent competitors—Pipeline Brickell, Buro Miami and MiamiShared, all in Miami’s urban core—also operate shared office arrangement. Businesses like LabMiami in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood and Venture Hive in Miami’s Park West neighborhood fill yet another niche, office and event space for tech-focused companies.

They’re all seeing brisk business.

“We just opened at the end of November, and we have five tenants, so it’s been hectic,” Andrea Salazar, facilities manager for standalone sharespace operator Brickell Link, which has 24,000 square feet of space in South Florida’s most modern office building at 600 Brickell Ave. Brickell Link is owned by Foram Group, the building’s developer.

“This concept is going to be very successful,” Salazar said. “Foram is already thinking of opening a full other section for the same kind of leasing.”

Kozelouzek said demand for shared office space is rising from several seemingly conflicting dynamics linked to the economic recovery. Large companies are expanding but want to be cautious about taking on long-term office commitments in a still-uncertain consumer environment. At the same time, while professional employment growth is limited in South Florida, some small companies are coming out of the recession spring-loaded for growth.

“It may not be obvious on a macro level if you take a look at statistics, but what I’m finding with my clients anecdotally is a lot of companies where people say, ‘We’re going to give this a shot for three months, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go back to working from the home office’ and that kind of thing,” Kozelouzek said.

South Florida’s position as a bridge to Latin America is further boosting the sharespace model due to the relatively high number of one- and two-employee arms of large international companies with money to spend on a quality office but not on a full office.

Lance Benson, executive managing director at real estate firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, has helped Quest hunt down several spaces to be converted into shared offices. He said what Foram is doing, in dedicating space in its building as a shared office center, is something landlords used to do only as a last resort after buildings started having trouble retaining marquee tenants.

Landlords are now staking out space specifically for shared space, and some believe today’s small tenant could grow to be a company that will take up several floors in the future.

“I could envision in the future where anyone with a building over 250,000 square feet is going to have a business center from the start,” he said. “That’s going to be the future.”