More than a Cube: The New Coworking Spaces
In 2011, I was offered a job as an Executive Director of an office of one. Great job, but I would be it…I was my only employee. While I was intrigued by the idea, the offer prompted me to go on a search for office space possibilities. At the time, I knew I wasn’t suited for working at home, the cat was always suggesting we nap, while Matt Lauer always called to me from the TV about new intriguing child dangers. I need an office to delineate my time as work time, and to bounce ideas off of coworkers. The office options I found were prohibitively expensive, and offered somewhat grim looking cubicles that recalled the office scene from The Apartment.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with some coworking converts and I was floored by the varied options that have become available in the last few years. Deskmag.com reports that there are now over 1320 coworking spaces worldwide, which is 88% more than a year ago. Scores of new co-working spaces have opened in the US recently, each with their own personality, and own take on the practice of coworking. The shift is striking, and its clear that the rise of these spaces is more than a trend, its a movement reflecting the changing way we are getting work done.
This week I visited with Julia Evans the Community Manager for Chicago’s newest space Grind which opened last month, in order to learn what these shared workspaces can offer.
- The New Networking: Grind and spaces like it, consider themselves “curated communities.” Multidisciplinary members working in different industries apply for membership, and do so because they interested in interacting with a group of professional peers. An open concept layout, and an online membership page create spaces for connection where coworkers can meet one another, network and share ideas. Contemporary coworking spaces are dedicated to generating relationships, and offering those intentional interruptions that can sometimes drive work forward.
- The Coffee Shop: Coworking spaces have come far from the dim rows of cubicles that gave me pause in 2011. At Grind I saw phone booths for one, conversation pods for two people, long working benches, private meeting rooms, and a “coffee shop” area where light music and white noise is piped in for those who respond to a bit of background bustle. These spaces understand that work is varied, and work spaces cannot be one-size fits all.
- The Professional Packaging: Evan explained to me that Grind sees itself as “the invisible hand” taking care of all the small things like copies, coffee and “keeping the lights on” that would take member’s energy away from the projects that are their primary focus. For those who are just beginning entrepreneurial ventures, coworking spaces offer a kind of ready made professional packaging. Need to entertain a prospective client, at a space that isn’t a Starbucks? Coworking spaces offer a home turf. Need a mailing address? Grind lets members use the address as their business address and provides mail services.
- The Flexible Schedule – The popularity of coworking spaces is an acknowledgement of how far we’ve come from the typical 9 to 5. Most spaces offer late night hours, and monthly memberships. Some spaces, such as Grind, even offer a daily rate, a one time fee to use the facility. This is a particularly appealing idea for those who travel but would like the possibility of a familiar work setting or a place to host a meeting.
- Mixed Use: Coworking spaces are expanding their definition of who their users and members could be. At Grind, I saw a classroom space in development, designed particularly for collaborative learning initiatives such as Dabble or Meetup events. There is also a larger event space with the possibility of digital projection for screenings. The new coworking spaces are adaptable to support the new blends of independent networking, learning, and work that have developed online.
- No Going Back: I asked Evans why she feels that we’ve reached this critical moment for coworking popularity. She noted that after the 2009 recession, there was a dynamic shift in the workforce. It became clear that there was no “safe job” and that traditional offices did not necessarily offer a security net. A wide range of professionals across industries decided to go independent – choosing their own work and in turn, work spaces.
Coworking spaces are an emerging industry, and Evans pointed out that the worldwide community of coworking is still engaged in conversations related to developing “best practices” and to building new ways of fostering relationships between members. Its clear that the best of these spaces can allow solo entrepreneurs and freelancers to retain the benefits of work flexibility while discovering physical sites for community and collaboration.