Office Associations

Rowen Ash of Industrious Office discusses building communal workplaces for the future

A lot of start-up companies begin operations in an isolated space like a garage or a home. While those digs might work in a company’s earliest, “mad genius” stage, a hermetic setting can eventually inhibit creative growth—if not induce depression. Enter Industrious Office, a real estate company that specializes in building shared workspaces, where multiple companies mingle and share amenities.

Industrious builds workspaces, carves them into beautiful, glass-walled micro suites with common areas, and sublets the suites to individual companies. A small portion of their business comes from enterprise customers who contract with them to build a customized space. Rowen Ash, the company’s director of construction, says Industrious is pushing the marketplace forward.

“We’re basically trying to evolve the next stage of workplaces,” he says. “We’re providing a polished, professional environment for smaller companies to enjoy the benefits and the community that larger companies inherently have, rather than doing their work in a bubble. It gives them access to amenities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford and a social experience that is beneficial.”

Ash came to Industrious from Twitter’s corporate real estate group, and he’s brought much of what he learned at the social network to bear on his work with Industrious. The focus at Twitter was to have all company departments mingle, share ideas, and create new ones. The end goals were product improvement and customer satisfaction.

“At Twitter, having a social work environment was important,” Ash says. “Salespeople and engineers shared common areas, which encouraged regular and informal interactions over many cups of coffee. It’s the same thing but on a bigger scale at Industrious.”

Immediately upon joining the company in early 2016, Ash set to streamlining project management via process improvement and predictive analytics. His team is small, and he had to make them efficient in delivering projects on time and on budget. He began tracking schedules, budgets, and quality, putting a full financial rundown for each into a database. The system breaks down floor plans and components, so Ash and his team can see minute elements, such as how much was spent on drywall or electrical consultants in a given project.

From there, an aggregator tool allows projects to be tracked side by side, their averages rendered and leveraged when proposing new projects; common breakdown points were located and remedied.

“The key is to get involved early in the process and set expectations that are achievable,” Ash says. “It’s more efficient to spend time upfront on early stage estimates, then go into projects with sufficient padding, working your way down—especially when delivering multiple projects in a short amount of time. Getting sucked into value engineering exercises is detrimental to our process and breaks down the system. Our timelines are critical to the success of our business and opening late has a huge impact on our ROI.”

The streamlining has been vastly important as the company has scaled up during Ash’s tenure. From developing two or three projects at a time in the early part of the year, the company now juggles as many as a dozen simultaneously, and the forecast is for the number to grow even further.

“Rationalizing out the differences in each finished project with quantitative reasoning, it’s easier to set expectations for new projects and get buy-in, rather than everyone going into the situation not knowing what to expect,” Ash says.

As the stable of projects grows, Ash and his team prioritize forward movement based on the expectations they have set with their investors.

“Working with a lean team has a host of advantages in this space, including having more influence over the building process,” Ash says. The company also uses outside people who have intricate knowledge of the local market, but they also absorb and customize what consultants have brought to the table, building the company’s internal “playbook.”

Ash says that Industrious, like any of the shared-economy companies out there, has to be constantly vigilant that every square foot of space is being used effectively. Everything that can be turned into usable space is revenue; any inefficiencies or facility support spaces are pure cost in the model.

“We could fill space and put offices in and call it a day, but efficiency and a focus on what our members want always leads to a better business,” he says. “If we build in a way where people are unable to derive value from amenities, efficiency drops and impacts revenue. It’s all about finding that balance, measuring it, and improving it. That process is ongoing, and that’s what makes our product unique and successful and keeps the work coming in.”