Choosing new roommates for your office
They’re all the rage, and some of them have gotten way out of hand. Ping pong tables, craft beer fridges, and a guy named Dex who is a freelance designer/plays ukulele in a folk art collective on Tuesdays sitting in the corner. I’m talking about co-working spaces of course.
Co-working spaces are part of a larger trend of sharing office space, which has become extremely popular, especially in big cities. There are a few reasons for this: more and more people are breaking away from the traditional business structure to become freelancers or startups, more people are moving around and are looking for flexible workspace, and the cost of renting a traditional office is rising in most places.
But there’s a lot more to co-working spaces than a relatively cheap desk and espresso machine on-hand. This post is about the different kinds of shared workspaces out there, and what they can do for your business.
How shared workspace can help businesses
There’s a reason (quite a few reasons, really) that so many people share workspace - and it’s not Dex’s ukulele.
One of the biggest reasons for sharing workspace is pure numbers. If you stick ten people in a room at different times throughout the day, the cost of rent is down. But it’s more than just rent - the upstart costs of furniture, facilities, utilities and all are lowered, too. Plus, most shared workspace providers offer membership discounts on business services like printing, shipping and accounting.
Business growth support
Although sharing workspace started as just a way to have a comfortable and cheap place to work, more and more businesses that use shared workspace are demanding other kinds of tagalong services. Many workspace providers are now offering networking events, training sessions, resource exchanges and other growth support.
Access to peers, mentors, clients and staff
By far one of the biggest advantages of working in the same space as other businesses is the growth of your professional network. Although so much networking can be done online, seeing someone face-to-face is still the easiest way to build meaningful and trusting relationships. Many shared workspaces give you access to their members list, which include a variety of skills and off-shoot networks. When you’re working next to someone who is at a different stage of business than you (for example, if you are a startup and they are onto their third successful business), you learn - even just by seeing their day-to-day interactions. Or, posing a question to the room of “does anyone know someone who can do….” can get a quicker answer than digging up a freelancer. Sharing workspace allows for those kinds of connections to happen.
Easier to scale up or down
Unlike renting your own office, which comes with a lease, shared workspaces allow your business to grow flexibly. This month it’s just you working? Only pay for a desk. Added three new people to your team? Upgrade to your own room. This means you’re only spending money on the space you’re actually using.
Business tools you don’t have to worry about
Who likes dealing with printer ink? Nobody. Sometimes businesses are just looking for a workspace where all of the annoying office-managy details are already taken care of so they can focus on growing their business.
Well-being and social networks
Especially for freelancers who aren’t part of a close-knit team, it can get pretty lonely working from home or from cafes. Many shared workspaces have social amenities too, like happy hours or picnics - and even the chance to make like-minded friends near the microwave is a welcome feature for many people.
Types of shared workspaces
There are a few different types of shared workspace, and they work differently depending on the size and type of business you are in.
Many shared workspaces have features of several types of spaces. WeWork, for example, has plans that let you scale up the amount of business support features you’re looking for. There are two other kinds of spaces that are less common, but still important.
Hackerspaces are more focused on those that build things using computing technology. They’ll have things like 3D printers, soldering or woodworking equipment on hand, and often host workshops or other spaces to share information and learning.
Makerspaces are similar, but for tons of other industries. You can rent a workbench, use a commercial kitchen, roaster or distiller, use power tools or find professional photography equipment. Using makerspaces and hackerspaces are often way way cheaper than investing in major equipment yourself. Makerspaces is the umbrella term for all shared workspaces that cater to light-industry or creative production spaces with equipment that is more than a desk and wifi connection.
Shared art studios are also very common, and often have basic supplies on hand, or offer discounts to supply stores to members. If you are an artist or other creative producer who needs dedicated studio space, but not all the time, you can look into sharing a studio.
What to look for in a shared workspace
Of course, every business has different priorities, budgets and needs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re thinking about choosing a space to work in.
Is the cost of the space (and all of the included services) less than what you’d pay in a traditional rented office? Of course, you’re likely to pay more renting a co-working hotdesk than you are working from home, but are you more productive at home or in an office? What discounts that you’d actually use are included in the cost of membership (such as bulk-rate shipping, a mailbox, or high speed wifi).
Location and Access
Is it easy for you and your team to get to, and do you need to think about parking? Is it easy and convenient for your clients or others you want to meet with to get to? Do the hours fit your best working hours? What is the neighbourhood like and are there places you can get lunch nearby (hey, it’s important).
If your team needs some space to chat freely, are breakout rooms available? Is it an appropriately professional place to bring a client to? Is there space to have a private conversation on the phone? Is there a room that you can give a presentation in, with an AV setup? Are you productive in the space?
Do they have the kinds of knowledge-sharing resources you’d benefit from? What kinds of business services and perks do you get with your membership? Do they have the equipment and physical tools you need to produce your products?
Are you looking for a workspace that caters directly to your industry, or one with diverse members that you can draw different knowledge from? Working with one that caters to your industry (like fashion, tech, media, financial-tech, etc) means they’ll have great info about getting investors who are looking for businesses like yours, or finding mentors that could be the perfect fit. Going for a more diverse member base means you can try your products out on different kinds of markets, that you can find all sorts of related services more easily that aren’t in your line of work, and that your competitors aren’t peering over your shoulder all the time.
Some shared workspaces to inspire you
There are thousands of shared workspaces all around the world. Get googling to see what’s in your area. Here are a few of mine:
La Cocina is an incubator for food entrepreneurs, offering a commercial kitchen alongside business support, networking, classes, and food industry-specific technical assistance. La Cocina targets women of color, most of whom are immigrants and mothers. It’s using its program to help break barriers of entry for otherwise disadvantaged entrepreneurs, by offering cheaper workspace, a business network, and business guidance to each of their program participants.
Paris&Co is a consortium of incubators that are supported by the city authority, and are themed to address industries Paris is interested in promoting. One particular incubator is the Urban Lab, which provides space and resource tools for companies and academics interested in making the city itself more environmentally sustainable, resilient to climate change, responsive to its citizens and adaptive to congestion and city logistics.
The Made in NY Media Center, in DUMBO, Brooklyn, is a huge workspace, incubator and exhibition space, hosted in a historic building and supported by the city of New York and the Independent Filmmaker Project. They host freelancers and companies that do basically anything related to new and creative media production - journalists, filmmakers, writers, storytellers, digital media and designers, etc. Their workspace is affordable and Made in NY Media Center has co-working space, incubator and accelerator programs, workshops and showcase, and even an exchange program between NYC and Berlin.
Sew FYI is a makerspace in LA that is tailored (pun intended) specifically to fashion designers and other producers that need high-powered sewing equipment. Day passes, weekly passes and monthly memberships all get you access to equipment and classes for individuals and companies producing creative materials.
Want more information about shared workspace?
If you’re looking for your own co-working or other shared space to run your business from, you can usually google spaces in your area. Otherwise, check out directory sites like Coworker.com or coworkingmap.org.