Profile: Deborah Boyer
Global Workspace Association Board Member, Deborah Boyer, has the perspective many coworking space operators wish they understood: the owner/landlord perspective.
Although real estate owners and landlords are increasingly choosing to operate their own spaces as well, many GWA members are operators with little or no real estate/landlord experience. Boyer says she is able to use her more than 20 years of experience in the real estate industry to help guide the future of coworking as well as mentor coworking space operators as they navigate leases, financing, and landlord/operator relationships.
She says her focus on coworking spaces came about because of the explosion of growth in the agile office space market.
“We’re really experiencing a tremendous shift in how office space is used and transacted with the advent of coworking,” she said.
Boyer said her introduction to coworking came about four years ago when she was working with a low-rise mall building property. This property had previously been a retail mall, she explained, but with the recent changes in the retail industry, the building was largely unoccupied and “dead feeling,” Boyer explained. Boyer said they ended up forming a partnership with a coworking company, and it completely changed the space.
“They came in and very creatively transformed it…into a huge coworking campus,” Boyer said. “[Partnering with a coworking space] was kind of a big bet to make at the time,” Boyer said. “But it was so clearly born out as successful that it convinced me of both the death of the demand for that kind of [retail] space and the beginning of momentum [for coworking].”
Boyer says her experience allows her to offer perspective on everything from alternatives to conventional lease forms to how operators can present coworking in the most attractive light to potential landlords.
“I really bring that kind of institutional perspective and owner/landlord perspective,” she said. “[I can] help many of the coworking companies understand when they’re trying to negotiate space in those buildings, what the challenges are for landlords to do deals with them, and to help them understand our universe, which has its own challenges.”
She said it’s critical for operators to be sensitive not only to how a space can fit their needs but also to how their coworking community will fit into any other occupants of the building.
“Make sure that there’s harmony and that you can integrate into the building in an effective way,” she said.
Coworking spaces often carry the unique benefit of being able to extend or offer new services in-building to all the occupants—a characteristic that is important for operators to both consider and to present to landlords. If having a coworking operator rent their space can make the dynamic of the space more valuable for other tenants, a landlord is much more likely to see the value of even the non-traditional format of flexible office space models, Boyer explained.
As relationships, industry norms, and the types of clients who are seeking coworking spaces continue to evolve, Boyer said the GWA is more important than ever.
“What GWA does…is it provides this opportunity for both the providers and operators of agile office solutions to come together and really learn from each other as this new territory is chartered, and to forge effective partnerships with each other. There’s so much learning going on and so much discovery that’s happening at GWA conferences,” she said.
Boyer said one of the biggest shifts in the future of coworking is the reach of the industry. She pointed out how coworking has traditionally served clients from small business or who are independent contractors and entrepreneurs. Now, however, many large corporations are seeing the value of coworking and flexible office spaces for their employees.
“It provides a certain kind of environment in which employees seem to thrive,” Boyer noted. She said she believes coworking will continue to adapt to this changing customer base, incorporating “enterprise solutions” and any number of other packaging options for the services coworking offers.
The GWA’s model of membership, conferences, and communication allows for all the key stakeholders in this industry to have a seat at the table, promoting communication between multiple perspectives and points of view.
“GWA is becoming more and more of a convener of bringing all these different vectors together,” Boyer said. “GWA is at the epicenter of forming the future of the way space is used for work.”
Boyer also said the atmosphere of the GWA community is radically different than other industries in regards to collaboration and sharing information.
“It hasn’t been about transparency; it’s been about controlling information. That’s kind of blowing open now…and so GWA provides a space where people can begin to say, ‘Okay there are reasons for us to share information with each other, learn from each other, and see if there are ways to not just be in competition but to go forward with taking the best examples and creating something greater.’”
Boyer said she loves working with the rest of the GWA team to strategize about ways to promote a healthy future for coworking. “My participation is just, frankly, a joy for me,” she said.
In addition to her work on the GWA board, Boyer is the Director of Asset Management for The Swig Company. She works to strategically position the Swig Company’s portfolio, keeping the company ahead of new CRE trends. Boyer is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and participates in several other professional and community development groups and associations.