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.

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Guest's picture

I've only been to one Co-working space in Culver City, but it was a great experience and a goal of mine to be able to join someday (once I can cover the overhead expense).

Meg Favreau's picture

I haven't used one yet, but I've always liked the idea of coworking spaces. I usually work in my apartment or a coffee shop, but they both have their distractions. I'm sure a coworking space has its own distractions as well, but a little bit of socialization during the day would probably be good for me. =)

Guest's picture

As you say, coworking can be a great place to be halfway between the coffee shop and the office.

When looking for a corworking space, we've found it also helps to get a feel for what the territory and the natives are like.

Some coworking spaces can be great for your business - for freelancers, some are focused on almost being a networking hub - so 1 real estate agent, 1 insurance person, 1 mortgage broker, 1 accountant, 1 photographer, etc. - there's a benefit of sharing contacts and business that evolves.

However we've heard of a few places where an assortment of pete the photocopier hog, charlie the coffee baron, and ira the interrupter that we thought existed only in the corporate world.

Sometimes it helps to check out the personality of the place before completely signing up!

Guest's picture

What a great idea. I hadn't heard of this before. I bet it's also great for bouncing ideas off people once you're in a good group. Years ago I had to work out of an internet cafe and it wasn't the greatest as surrounded by people who weren't there to work. Thanks for sharing on

Guest's picture

Great article. Found you from BizSugar. I'm a freelancer based out of San Diego. I joined a co-working space (Hera Hub) mainly because I was looking for another place (other than Starbucks) to work between meetings and shuttling my daughter to and from school. Joining is one of the best things I've done because not only is it space, but it gives you access to a network of people and experts. I've also already had opportunities and business come from the co-working space. Highly encourage people to see if there are spaces in their areas.

Guest's picture

I am based in New York City where one would think renting such a space would be out of my reach. I found the Sunshine Suites in the Bronx and Manhattan where a dedicated work area goes for a reasonable $275 a month in the Bronx, the Manhattan spots run $375 a month. I love the extras in the Bronx where I get free legal advice, free mentoring and get free services from other members. I love it!

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