Seeking your thoughts on coworking spaces - experience? interest?
March 25, 2014 3:20 PM   Subscribe

We are considering setting up a coworking space in a nearby small town. It would be very helpful to hear from people who have tried working in one. What did you like or dislike? What suggestions do you have? If you haven't worked in one, why not? Does the idea appeal to you or not?

Coworking spaces are centrally located large offices or sometimes loft spaces that allow many individuals to bring laptops and other tools of their trades to work in a somewhat social environment. Often there are many shared resources - office equipment, kitchen space, conference rooms, etc. They work well for people who are feeling too isolated working from home and seek camaraderie, input from others, and other benefits of community, as well as the above mentioned resources.

Do you know of any coworking spaces available in your area? ? If there are no coworking spaces there, do you think one would be well received? Is your area urban, suburban or rural?

If you have the energy to provide details about how your coworking space is set up that would also be very helpful - fees, layout, ambience, special features, etc.

Any feedback would be very helpful.
posted by ridingtheranges to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Coworking was kind of a trendy thing several years ago, there were several of them in the biggest nearby city to me (Portland, Oregon) but a couple years ago I tried to rent a desk and there ended up only being one left. I rented one for several months and it was interesting and handy to have as a home base for working away from home, but I eventually stopped going when I didn't have time for the long commute.

I liked being able to get into and out of the space easily, I liked that they had good security (everyone had a PIN for a locked door). The main office space was mostly quiet and I could wear headphones if someone was speaking on the phone. The place I went didn't have great bike storage or a good shared fridge space, so I ended up having to go out for food and drink whenever I needed something. Mostly, my ideal place would be dead quiet, free of distractions, and provide everything I might need daily (filtered water, a coffee maker, windows for a sunny space, way to work privately if needed).
posted by mathowie at 3:30 PM on March 25, 2014

I used a few co-working spaces in London a few years ago, they all ended up being extremely social and interesting places with lots of frustrations. Before then I'd attempted to work from home for six months - the lack of "separation" and normal social contact hurt my prodcutivity and self-esteem badly.

I'd tend to join a space in an older building (two lofts, and a converted railway arch) with other "creatives", which ended up meaning anyone who could wear jeans to work. Generally, rent including services was 200 GBP each month and they were usually very poorly heated/cooled and difficult to have private calls or conversations in (if I was converting a space, I would try hard to install even a booth or small room for those few calls where distractions have to be avoided).

But sharing music, business advice and beers was a perfect motivator, I've ended up good friends with many ex "colleagues" who I worked closely with every day even while our jobs have nothing in common. It also has given me very interesting insights into their careers - I know more about how the fashion and film industries work "behind the scenes" than say an internship would have provided, and used many sharp lessons in my own business.

I think a well designed, sensibly organised and fairly priced space provides real benefit.
posted by Wonton Abandon at 3:45 PM on March 25, 2014

There is one in my area, and I haven't worked there, but I think why is kind of relevant, because I almost did. First, their website was very slick and made it look very appealing, and the price was okay. But there were three things that became evident that really didn't work for me. One was that they had clearly decided to be downtown in my city because they thought it was sexier, despite the fact that driving and parking in downtown is much more complicated than in other surrounding parts of the city. The second was that they started out billing themselves as being kind of industry-neutral, but it became pretty obvious to me that the non-techie types who were using it were just using it for maildrop services, not for actual office space, and that the office space was not really set up for, like, me to be able to just briefly find a room and close a door to have private space with a client for five minutes. For some industries, that's kind of important, and I should not have to book a conference room or pay for a totally private office for that.

But, honestly, the big problem? They had a very slick website and they had a sexy address, but the organizers did not respond to emails promptly, did not seem to have a particularly organized idea of what was going on, were just generally not as professional as I would have expected from the image they presented. The thing is, if the marketing materials had been less slick, I might have been more tolerant of that. If you set up expectations that you're a high-end sort of place, and are charging accordingly, you need to be able to deliver on that in more than just real estate. After the guy I was in contact with kept forgetting to respond to my messages until a week or more later, I gave it up.
posted by Sequence at 4:02 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Midwest city of ~120k here. The big problem with ours was lack of interest. I'd strongly suggest not to start unless you can fill many of the full-time desks with people prepaying six months' rent/membership fees in advance, both because you'll need the money and because it verified people are serious. Interest, even if it's strongly expressed, means little when it's time to seriously participate. And, you will not have enough walk-ins/contact form submissions/calls to make up for it.

I could share many details about the space, but its failure to cohere as a sustained community made most of the details irrelevant. It was lovely and fairly priced for the location, though.

Look up Alex Hillman and his coworking Google Group if you haven't yet. He is wise.
posted by michaelh at 4:04 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a similar situation to Sequence -- great website, neat space. Parking was a problem. But the worst? They never returned my phone calls or emails, and when I went by in person after hours, there was no one on staff who I could talk to, nor a way to leave a message for them. Bah.

I work from home, and I was desperate for a change of scenery. They lost an easy customer by not being responsive.
posted by mochapickle at 4:07 PM on March 25, 2014

About ambiance: I'm here in San Francisco and it seems like even though we have a dozen coworking spaces, every one that I've tried caters more to startup folks than to individual freelancers. The last one I was at had millionaire Stanford dropouts skating around and bringing girls over to show off the guys's Peter Thiel scholarships. I would love it if someone would start a space that was closer to a cafe, with less rapacious business stuff in the air.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:13 PM on March 25, 2014

East Coast bedroom community ~ 100K people. A friend started one, primarily because he had an office anyway and figured he could essentially sell enough space to work rent free. However, he took a different approach in that he only had a few cubes and most people were paying a few hundred a month for a full time private office. It worked out for him, but then his only goal was to cover expenses as he runs a 2 person company so he needed space anyway.
posted by COD at 5:10 PM on March 25, 2014

What stops me from signing up for a coworking space is that my business requires occasional (not frequent) calls and I don't want to shell out the cash for (and be sequestered in) a private office. Ideally I could sit in a shared space most of the time but have a 'phone booth' I could disappear into occasionally for 30-40 minute phone calls with having to check out a meeting room in advance. Upon thinking about this I guess I could schedule all of my calls on one day and do them at home, then go to a coworking space on the days I know I won't have calls... but then when I start calculating the costs and logistics, it starts seeming expensive and/or complicated.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:19 PM on March 25, 2014

I thought about trying one that opened near me, but they only allowed payment via PayPal. I found that offputting and inconvenient. I'd have been happy to pay cash.
posted by amtho at 5:23 PM on March 25, 2014

Seconding the recommendation to check out Alex Hillman. He’s doing amazing things here in Philly with Indy Hall.
posted by Ryon at 6:33 PM on March 25, 2014

I think it's a terrible idea unless you can think of a few folks off the bat who would stick around for a year. Don't think of it as coworking space, just think of it as office leasing. Who are you competing against, and why hasn't anyone else done it yet?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:10 PM on March 25, 2014

I'm a "creative" freelancer, and I've looked into a few co-working spaces but haven't taken the leap for a few reasons. Like others here, I need to be on the phone from time to time, and I'm concerned about my own privacy and annoying others. Also, I have a nice enough home office and don't want to incur an unnecessary expense. Still, I haven't totally shut my mind to the idea of co-working.
posted by Leontine at 9:15 PM on March 25, 2014

I crashed in one in Vancouver BC temporarily. I liked it, the problem was that the ergonomics of working on my laptop on a fixed height table with a fixed height chair were poor. I was working part days in the space and it would have been physically impossible to do a full day. Also no lockers to secure your stuff, and bathroom outside the office space so you had to always worry about your laptop.

The space had a good crowd. Mostly independents running businesses off cell phones. There was light chat among the office mates and invites to lunch. Convenient location. However long term, I need ergonomic monitor, keyboard, and desk, so these kind of spaces are a deal breaker for long term use. Too bad.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:26 PM on March 25, 2014

I worked in two different coworking spaces in New York City that were geared specifically towards writers.

I liked that they were inexpensive (money was an issue for me at the time, and I remember both being less than $150 a month).

The downside of the cheap price was that the places had to be run like a gym, i.e. lots of people using the equipment (desks). These places had lockers available, but it was't possible to leave one's stuff out overnight. In that sense, it was like working in a public library (indeed, I eventually ended up doing a lot of work at the 42nd Street public library—cheaper, and a more beautiful building).

The social aspect was nice, especially at the space in Manhattan, where the work room was separated from the kitchen/social room by a door. In the one in Brooklyn, there was less aural separation, as I remember, so it was really only possible to talk in a whisper. And there was just less emphasis on making the space congenial.

In my opinion, the perfect coworking space would have a mix of less-expensive carrels and more-expensive dedicated desks, a kitchen, a room for taking phone calls/doing interviews (essential for journalists), and a hangout area with books and comfortable chairs. There would be a reading series or some other kind of event series that would encourage the members to get to know each other. The main work area would be quiet. There would be natural light. It would be convenient to transit, and there'd be at least a couple of lunch/after-work food/coffee/drink options nearby.

Best of luck on your endeavor. I still think coworking is a good idea, and I've daydreamed about starting one of these before.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 12:59 PM on March 27, 2014

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