Get More Work Done
Last fall, when Emma Weisberg left her job at Google to focus on running Blinkbuggy, an Internet startup that's modernizing the traditional baby book, she knew the company needed space outside of her New York City apartment. "I work with my husband, and we have two young children," she says. "Being at home means you're not getting any work done whatsoever." In January, Weisberg and the startup’s two other local employees set up shop at WeWork, a shared workspace (called a coworking space) with over a dozen outposts in New York City and across the country.
Over the last few years, hundreds of coworking spaces like hers have sprung up around the country, offering the growing number of freelancers and entrepreneurs an alternative to working from home or in a coffee shop. Deskmag.com, a coworking news site, reports that the number of people using coworking spaces more than doubled between 2012 and 2013, and nearly 1,000 coworking spaces are now in operation across the U.S., with more expected.
"The biggest benefits is it gets you out of the house and into a headspace that is vibrant and conducive to getting things done," says Kit Maloney, founder of Collaboratory 4.0, a Boston-based coworking space for female entrepreneurs. Some solopreneurs or small businesses sublease space from an existing business, but coworking spaces offer the chance to collaborate with like-minded startups or indie professionals rather than working alongside employees of a much larger organization. Sometimes coworking spaces offer networking events or bring in speakers tailored to the needs or interests of tenants.
For business owners like Weisberg as well as freelancers and consultants, coworking spaces offer an alternative to the solitude of working from home, the expense of renting private office space or the unpredictability of working out of coffee shops. "[Coworking] was really the only solution in terms of being able to have space, kitchens, WiFi and not sitting at home trying to work," Weisberg says.
Here’s what you should know if you’re considering it.
The chance to collaborate and interact with others at a coworking space is a big draw for many people, especially solopreneurs. For the past two and a half years, Claire Pearson, a certified weight loss consultant in Atlanta, has worked out of an old-warehouse-turned-coworking space. The space includes a yoga studio and several small offices for health and wellness professionals, such as a chiropractor, massage therapist and child psychologist. "Every one of us shares the same vision and philosophy about nutrition and taking care of your body," she says. "Even if we are all doing our own independent work, there's a nice energy in the office."
Being in close proximity to like-minded professionals has also given Pearson a chance to collaborate. For instance, the chiropractor has referred some weight-loss clients to Pearson because she knew losing weight would help improve their health. Meanwhile, Pearson's clients can come for a weighin and stay for a yoga class, all in the same building.
Some coworking spaces focus on specific niches such as wellness professionals, eco-conscious startups or female entrepreneurs, while others cater to a more general population. Either way, do a gut check on whether you'll like the other tenants. "Does it feel like people you want to see every day and get to know?" Maloney asks. "The whole point is that you are going to a place that you're excited to be."
Location was a key factor for Stephanie Burns, founder and CEO of Chic CEO, an online network of 50,000 female entrepreneurs. Burns and her team work out of Co-Merge, a coworking space that's centrally located in downtown San Diego. The address also lends cache to Burns' business. "It's a great address," she says. "When you get your mail, it makes you look credible."
Many coworking spaces also have conference or meeting rooms, so if you plan to entertain clients or customers in the coworking space, consider how easy it will be for them to find parking or get to the space. As they say in real estate, "location, location, location."
If you travel often, you might also look for a coworking space with locations in multiple cities. That strategy has proven helpful for Weisberg when she travels to San Francisco to meet with potential investors and her two employees in the area. "We can book a conference room in WeWork SF and bring someone in for a meeting and use the other common spaces," she says. "It's a huge benefit to have a real meeting space."
Just as different companies can have different cultures, so can different coworking spaces. Do residents keep to themselves, working with headphones glued to their ears, or do they chat in the communal kitchen and in the hallways? Does everyone have an assigned desk they can decorate however they'd like, or do desks rotate depending on who's there on a given day? Does it have natural light, if that's important to you? Do people bring their dogs, as Pearson's colleagues do?
Many spaces host events or offer free day passes to bring in non-members so they can see the space, chat with current tenants and get a feel for the vibe. In fact, visiting the space, networking with other tenants and talking to the owner helped solidify Burns' decision to join Co-Merge. "The look and feel is very much in line with our branding at Chic CEO," she says. "We knew that it would be a great fit if we brought clients in or held events there."
Different coworking spaces charge in different increments, such as the hour, the day or the month (often with the ability to cancel with 30-days notice in the case of a month-to-month tenancy). Burns likes that Co-Merge charges by the hour. "If you maybe take a week off or you work from home, you're not getting charged for time you're not using," she explains.
Some charge more for a reserved desk or private office versus a floating desk, but give you the flexibility to scale up or down depending on your business' needs. When Blinkbuggy first starting working out of WeWork, the space didn't have three seats next to each other. They're gradually moving closer to each other "as people move out and they can rearrange and shift seats," Weisberg says, adding that "as you have more money to spend, you can move into dedicated office spaces."
Most coworking space include amenities like high speed WiFi, printing, scanning, faxing, water, coffee and a refrigerator, according to Maloney. Some also offer conference rooms or event space, but you need to pay extra to reserve those or pay for cleaning after hosting a big event. If event space or other amenities are important to you, find out the extra costs and factor those into your choice.
If your work requires privacy for dealing with sensitive information or meeting clients confidentially, then you'll need to be extra picky in choosing a coworking space, as Pearson was. "A lot of these coworking spaces are just cubicles in the middle of the floor," she says. "I wanted my own space that was an office with a door that I could lock and leave stuff in there." Some coworking spaces have booths or conference rooms for holding private phone conversations, but they may not be 100 percent soundproof.
Even so, coworking can make sense for a variety of businesses. As Burns says, "it's a great way to keep your costs down, meet new people, expand your network, get out of your home office."
Sourcing a Space in Your Area
Start here if you’re ready to look into options for co-working spaces near you:
- The Coworking Google group — Billing itself as the “#1 place in the world to discuss topics and share ideas related to coworking,” you may have to do a little digging to find what you’re looking for, but you’ll probably find it here.
- Desktime Directory — Just plug in your location in the search bar, pick the duration of your stay and the amenities you’re looking for and go. The map feature they offer is also a great visual way to see what’s near you.
- Coworking Wiki — An open source directory maintained by the coworking community.
- ShareDesk — helps you find not only a desk, but meeting rooms, studios and private offices too.
- League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces — A network of coworking spaces across the nation.
- Desksurfing — Find an open desk anywhere from Chattanooga, TN to Reykjavik, Iceland.