Breaking Free from WeWork: How to find Affordable Small Office Space in San Francisco

Brendan Suh


Modern furniture. Colorful murals. Free kombucha. It’s hard not to fall in love with WeWork’s glitz and glam when seeing it for the first time. You wouldn’t be out of place to ask yourself if this is office space heaven.

Two weeks later, the picture usually looks different. Teams camped outside of phone booths, warding off unsuspecting intruders who dare use a public good in their self-proclaimed corner of the coworking space. Hours spent in phone booths add up, and what felt spacious and exciting at first starts to feel claustrophobic and draining.

For most, coworking spaces are a purgatory. Startups and small teams are usually limited to bedroom desks or coffee shops, so the appeal of a dedicated office space is justifiably attractive. To extend the life of the coworking journey, some teams opt for private offices. What coworking spaces don’t tell you is that they often charge 50%+ higher rates than market value. So those tiny, cramped, glass cages that cost $8,000 a month could be allocated elsewhere.

But what happens when you can’t take it anymore? When coworking isn’t working?

It’s no shock to anyone that San Francisco’s office space market has plummeted in the wake of COVID. But even still, it’s hard to know what that means for your company. Are all office spaces taking a hit right now? Are there office spaces available in San Francisco for a team of 10? What pricing should I expect?

Fear not. We’ll help you navigate how to find an affordable office for your growing team in San Francisco.

Traditional Office Leases, and Their Pitfalls

Unlike our working world, office leases have not changed in decades. Negotiated by brokers, terms often set with a minimum of 3 years - “plug-and-play” and “flexible” are not typically words found in this market.

While you can opt for a traditional lease and work with a broker to find your own space if you want to, there are a few reasons why many startups choose to opt out of them.

  1. Rigidity: Traditional office leases offer little flexibility. In the fast-paced world of startups, you could quickly outgrow your space, leaving you stuck with a lease that no longer suits your needs. When office space terms in San Francisco typically start at 3 years, this can be a big commitment for a young team.
  2. Lengthy Process: Office searches last months, not days or weeks. It is not uncommon to tour dozens of locations with brokers, only to have 75% of them fall through for differences in desired terms. This process is no small task for a startup. The leader of the search usually spends hours each week talking to brokers and landlords, which is time away from their critical work.
  3. Cost: Renting your own office isn’t cheap. For a cash-conscious team, it’s easy for excessive rent payments and broker fees to limit your ability to invest in crucial areas of your business, like product development or marketing.
  4. Isolation: We all love space of our own, but sometimes it can feel isolating for a small team. There is something about the buzz of coworking - even if they’re strangers - that creates a sense of momentum or community.

So, what do San Francisco startups do when they want space of their own but don’t want to go through this process?

Allow us to introduce you to an alternative that's gaining popularity among startups in the Bay Area: sharing or splitting office space with another company.

Why Sharing is Caring in the World of Office Space

  1. Money in Your Pocket: Let's talk cash. Sharing office space means splitting the rent, utilities, and all those hidden costs. We’ve seen this typically save tenants 30%+ on rent cost for equivalent office space. That means more funds for what truly matters, like hiring that killer designer or investing in ads that'll make your competitors sweat.
  2. Flexibility Galore: Remember that growth spurt you had last quarter? With shared office space, you won't be squeezed in like a sardine. Need more elbow room? No problemo. It's easier to expand when you're in a flexible agreement.
  3. Meet Your New Office Mates: Sure, you're leaving your familiar coworking strangers behind, but you're not going full hermit. Sharing office space means you're in the same building as another cool startup. That's networking potential right there. Partnerships, collaborations, and spontaneous brainstorming sessions are on the menu, as well as the cross-company happy hour.
  4. Conference Room Bliss: Need a professional meeting space that doesn't involve verbal altercations in public? Many shared offices have significantly more conference rooms and phone booths accessible than a WeWork.

If splitting office space can work so well, why haven’t people done it more often?

The short answer: it’s a pain in the butt.

From legal agreements to coordinating co-tenancy norms, there is a back-and-forth process that is usually too cumbersome for teams to want to do. And even if you do, what if you can’t find a space you like?

This is where Tandem comes in. We’re trying to help our community of startups in San Francisco find affordable, flexible office space by splitting excess with other companies. We bring you multiple options. We handle the legal. You just tell us what you like. That’s it.

The startup dilemma of finding small office space in San Francisco is real, but there may be more options than you think. If you’re curious to see more, check out what’s available on Tandem.

Explore office space to fit your teams needs