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How to Make Coworking Work for You

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— January 15, 2019

How to Make Coworking Work for You

  • Welcome to the golden age of the un-tethered worker. A growing number of Americans don’t commute to an office; FlexJobs reports that 3.9 million US employees worked from home at least part of the time in 2017, up from 1.8 million in 2005. At the same time, others are choosing to freelance, consult or start their own businesses rather than work for someone else.
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Coworking

Welcome to the golden age of the un-tethered worker. A growing number of Americans don’t commute to an office; FlexJobs reports that 3.9 million US employees worked from home at least part of the time in 2017, up from 1.8 million in 2005. At the same time, others are choosing to freelance, consult or start their own businesses rather than work for someone else.

In fact, the freelance platform Upwork and the Freelancers Union predict that if freelancing continues at its current growth rate, the majority of the US workforce will be freelance in less than a decade from now.

The ability to work from almost anywhere has given rise to co-working, spaces designed for collaborative or individual work by telecommuters and freelancers, and employees of startups, nonprofits, and small businesses.

“Once people could be productive with the device in the palm of their hand, they had more options than being tethered to a desk,” says Kim Burmester, vice president of sales & marketing at ATLAS Workbase in Seattle. “All of a sudden, working in a flexible workspace became a possibility.”

Home Sweet Office

Although some telecommuters and freelancers work from home or coffee shops, co-working spaces tend to offer high-speed internet and printer access, free coffee and snacks, events like happy hours and meditation classes, and other perks not available at home or the local Starbucks.

“We use #betterthanacoffeeshop because you get privacy, secure internet, and power wherever you sit,” Burmester says. “You can be much more productive than at a coffee shop and you can even leave your stuff when you use the restroom, which is one of the anxieties of working in a coffee shop.”

Co-working spaces have members of all ages, but the concept has a definite appeal to Millennials. “We are a generation that values the freedom, mobility and the ability to work on our own terms because we’ve grown up in a world of technology that has always allowed us to do that,” says Sam Rosen, co-founder of DeskPass, an app that gives users access to co-working spaces in several cities.

The Global Co-working Unconference Conference (GCUC) forecasts that worldwide, co-working will grow from 14,411 spaces and 1.73 million members in 2017 to over 30,000 spaces and 5.1 million members by 2022.

Some of these co-working spaces cater to specific industries or interests—for instance, Miami’s Tedge bills itself as a mindful co-working space, offering an organic kitchen and eco-friendly design—while others, like the global co-working brand WeWork, do not have a specific focus. WeWork declined to be interviewed for this piece but according to its website, it launched in 2010 and now has 501 office locations in 96 cities around the world. Industry or interest-specific co-working spaces might offer events and connections more tailored to one’s concerns. However, a larger co-working space may have a wider network.

Available Options

Many co-working spaces offer a combination of hot desks (those available on a first-come, first-served basis and not assigned to a specific member), dedicated desks (where members might set up monitors or other gear) and private offices. Desks tend to carry lower price tags, while private offices tend to cost more. Some co-working spaces also have booths for phone calls as well as events or conference room space members can book in advance.

Depending on the membership level you choose, you may have 24-7 access to space or you may only have access during business hours or for a certain number of days per month. Member expectations can also vary. Some co-working spaces have staff who take care of cleaning the communal kitchen and loading the dishwasher, while other spaces expect members to pitch in and clean up after themselves.

Alex Leybovich, age 30, who owns a digital marketing company, has worked in an office at a WeWork location in Austin, Texas, for about a year. “They have a program called Veterans in Residence where they work with companies that are veteran-owned,” he says.

Some of the events his space hosts aren’t relevant to him, but Leybovich says he has made business connections with some of the other companies in the space. One of the biggest benefits is being able to host meetings there instead of going offsite.

“I’ve been able to get people to come to me because I can offer free coffee or free beer,” Leybovich says. (His WeWork location has beers, kombucha and cold-brew coffee on tap.) “It’s helped me be more productive by not having to leave.”

Many co-working spaces—like Workbar, a Boston-based group that plans to have 10 locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island by next February— give members access to other locations or even reciprocal privileges at other spaces. “We have a network with an additional 10 locations that all our members have access to,” says CEO Sarah Travers. “Sometimes they may want to work closer to home or closer to [Boston]. They may not want to sit in the same spot every day.”

Workbar spaces feature distinct “neighborhoods” for different activities: a café area for people who want the feel of a coffee shop; a “study” for quieter, focused work; the “switchboard” for outbound calls; and the “commons” for collaborative work.

Workbar’s membership model is month to month (with the exception of private offices). Some spaces require a minimum commitment of three months, however, so they may offer prospective members a free workday to test the waters and get a feel for their space before joining.

Co-working Freedom

For those who want more than a taste but less than a three-month commitment, a service like DeskPass might fit the bill. DeskPass started in Chicago but now has 200 locations across cities including LA, Boston, and San Francisco.

Stephanie Zhao was working as a freelance user interface and user experience designer in Chicago when she joined DeskPass about a year and a half ago. “It made more sense for me [than joining one co-working space] because I like exploring the city and I like the flexibility that DeskPass gave me,” says the 23-year-old. “DeskPass made me feel more like an adult and a legitimate business.”

Zhao estimates that she’s worked out of 30 different co-working spaces through DeskPass. “It gives me a chance to network with some of the professionals who have a longer lease,” she says. She’s now working for a startup company but continues using her DeskPass subscription to access co-working spaces rather than commuting to the startup’s office an hour away.

Meanwhile, Alex Grodner, a 30-year-old IT consultant, joined Birmingham, Alabama, co-working space Forge a few months ago so he’d have a quiet space to work outside the house, especially with the impending arrival of a new baby. Grodner doesn’t rent a private office but he can usually find a private spot for phone calls, unlike when he’d work out of coffee shops and retreat to his car for calls.

Grodner appreciates having different types of environments available depending on the type of work he’s doing. “There are bar stools or I can sit in a comfortable chair and have a big table if I have a lot of paperwork I need to go through,” he says.

However, the biggest perk for Grodner has been the opportunity to get together with other members. “My wife and I are still relatively new to the area, so I network not just from a business standpoint but a personal standpoint,” he says.

Of course, those connections don’t just happen, as Leybovich points out. While many co-working spaces provide Slack channels, Facebook groups or private online social networks to encourage member networking, Leybovich feels the best connections happen in real life, not behind a screen. That could mean staying after work hours for a member happy hour, rolling out your mat for a group yoga class in the afternoon or chatting with someone at a communal lunch table.

“You will get out of [your co-working membership] what you put into it,” Leybovich says. “The [people] I’ve seen who are very successful are the ones that integrate into the actual community.”

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