Coworking Spaces: The Office Alternative
Telecommuting is becoming an increasingly popular approach to working these days, and starting your own business is as popular as ever. Both options mean that you need a place to work of your own, though, because an employer won’t be providing it.
A home office may be an easy option, but there are a lot of downsides to working in the same environment your kids are playing in or your chores need to be done in. The main alternative — renting office space — can be an expensive proposition, especially if you’re just starting out. A new trend may offer a much easier option, though — coworking. (See also: Setting Up a Home Office on the Cheap)
A Brief History of Coworking
Coworking spaces are shared offices. Usually one person or a small organization rents a larger office space and then makes parts of it available to other individuals. The trend started in San Francisco in 2005 with the Hat Factory, a place where three people lived, and, during the day, made the space available to others to work in. The concept gained traction and has spread like wildfire. Most major cities have at least one coworking space these days, and there are an estimated 700 locations in the U.S. alone. The Coworking Directory serves as the best resource for checking into what’s available near you.
Coworking spaces are meant to provide an improvement over working in a coffee shop (you don’t have to keep buying an ever increasing number of cups of coffee) or at home (you can reduce the overlap between work time and your personal life). The movement, as a whole, also provides an organic approach to office space. No one needs a license or a franchise to open a coworking space. That’s how they can pop up all over, and why each one is very different from the next.
How to Get the Most Out of Coworking
Just about any coworking space offers you a place to plunk down with your laptop and work, completely tuning out everyone else. Most of us need that sometimes — when we’re on deadline, paying for the privilege of quiet workspace makes sense. But the rest of the time, there are a lot of other benefits you can get from a coworking space.
Most coworking spaces operate on the assumption that if a bunch of people are going to work in the same area, they might as well form a community. Many spaces host events, but even those that don’t offer plenty of informal opportunities to sit down and talk with other people in the space. Depending on your own background, this can be an easy way to find new clients, a freelancer to help you with a project, or even a team member for a new company. The human interaction can be one of the biggest benefits of a coworking space, especially for those of us who are used to sitting home alone to work.
Understanding the Amenities and Prices
Most coworking spaces make a point of posting both their amenities and prices on their websites. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area with multiple spaces, this information can help you decide where you should work, but it’s also important to understand what you’re getting.
You may be able to choose between a variety of different plans, from a one-day drop in option to monthly plans giving you full-time access and your own key. You may have access to a range of amenities:
- A key allowing you access anytime you want
- Coffee and other beverages
- Storage spaces
- Reduced costs for events
- Membership discounts for other businesses
- Access to printers, fax machines, and other office equipment
Every coworking space is different, so if there’s a feature you really need, it’s important to ask about it. If an amenity isn’t available, your request may prompt the space organizer to look into it.
Prices are mostly influenced by location — the simple fact that office space in New York City is more expensive than in Austin means that you’ll pay more to join a coworking space in New York. I’ve usually paid around $25 per day for dropping in at spaces in California, Oklahoma, and along the East Coast. Monthly memberships are often tiered to allow for different levels of access. In my experience, full-time access starts around $200 and goes up from there, based on location and features.