At its most basic, co-working is the use of a shared space to do business. Usually, such spaces offer “hot desks,” communal tables with chairs, power outlets and high-speed WiFi; spots can be rented by the day, the month or longer. Some provide the option of a dedicated desk/cubicle with locked storage, as well as shared or private offices. There are also usually communal kitchens, office equipment such as printers and copiers, free coffee, conference rooms and an on-site host-concierge.
Caroline Lofts, chief executive of WorkAbility, a collaborative workspace with locations in Denver, calls co-working an exciting version of office rental. “People in the early stages of needing brick-and-mortar space can have it without putting up an astronomical amount of capital. There’s no three- to five-year lease, you can surround yourself with other working professionals and completely untether if you have to, without penalty,” she says.
Co-working appeals to both solopreneurs and start-ups, says Jamie Shanker-Passero, associate director of the Temple University Small Business Development Center in Philadelphia. “With rising real estate prices, space sharing is crucial. You don’t pay for unused space, but do share expenses such as utilities, security and front desk personnel,” she says.
Meg Marrs, founder of K9 of Mine, a website that reviews dog toys and gear, splits her time between Boston and Austin. When she launched her business in 2015, Marrs worked out of neighborhood cafes. “There was always a moment of panic when I entered one. Are there any open tables? Where are the nearest outlets? What’s the cheapest coffee I can buy? Who should I ask to watch my laptop when I go to the restroom? And, if the WiFi was bad, it ruined my day,” she says.
Two years later, Marrs tried a hot desk at Austin’s Capital Factory and fell in love with the concept. “Having a workspace to which you can go and commit to has a huge impact. It’s so much more productive when everyone around me is working.”
Are you ready to move your “office” out of the local coffee shop? How do you find a co-working space that’s right for you? Here are factors to consider.
Will a desk and a chair among dozens of others do, or must you have a private office with a lockable door, file cabinet, guest seating and even a live plant? Co-working offices run the gamut from bare-bones to fully tricked out. There may be lockers to secure your stuff, loading docks for deliveries, full kitchens, beer on tap, gyms and game rooms. Some are geared to specific niches such as nonprofits, computer coders or only women. Cove, a D.C.-based co-working company, boasts an open-space concept. Sixty percent of the space is designated “quiet” with no talking. Private, soundproof phone booths may be reserved for calls. Members can use a smartphone app to see who is working at any given time, reserve a spot and even unlock the doors after business hours.
Jason Anderson, president of Venture X, a flexible office space provider, says to shop for a co-working space the same as you would for a hotel. “Do you want a standard room with the basics to meet your needs, or do you prefer a four-star environment with high-end furniture, full-time concierge and upscale amenities such as an on-site cafe?” he asks. “Are you more comfortable with a lively bar vibe or more attuned to a Four Seasons-type crowd?”
Co-working spaces can be sedate or social, so consider whether you want to surround yourself with people playing table tennis or to be able to concentrate without such distractions. Also think about whether you want to get involved with your workplace neighbors, says Baron Christopher Hanson, a company turnaround consultant based in Charleston, S.C. “If you see words like ‘collaboration’ repeatedly used to describe the space, expect more interaction.” Sarah Cissna in the District embraces the socializing. “I like getting to know people I wouldn’t have otherwise. It got lonely working at home.”
Pricing depends on services, staffing, location and amenities. At Denver’s WorkAbility, a communal area day pass is $17.50. Those who opt to work from any open desk pay $135 per month; it’s $400 per month for a dedicated desk with lockable storage. Private offices start at $900 per month. Cove charges $229 per month for unlimited access to all of its shared spaces. A one-day pass with reciprocity at more than 23 Venture X locations will run you about $40, while a shared desk starts at around $195.
A co-working space needs to be close enough to home that you’ll use it. Search online for “co-working space + city name.” If you hold face-to-face meetings, factor in its convenience for your clients. Is there plenty of parking and/or nearby public transportation? Cissna, who produces fundraising events for organizations, chose The Yard: Eastern Market in the District because it’s three blocks from her home and has a Metro stop across the street.
Some co-working spaces are stand-alone, while others use specific floors of a larger office building. Are there security guards, or is there someone manning a reception desk? How do people access the doors and elevators? Is there a way to safely store any belongings you leave at the space? Security is especially important to consider if you like to work off-hours or on weekends.
Once you’ve considered these factors, take the following steps before you sign up.
Go on a tour
There’s no substitute for eyeballing a space firsthand, says Hanson, who has leased co-working offices along the Eastern Seaboard for more than 20 years. Give it the once-over. Is the space flexible with ample chairs and tables? Check out the restrooms. Is the kitchen clean? Make sure the landlord and/or building is not in financial distress or foreclosure. Consider the noise level. Some rehabbed spaces act like an echo chamber. Shanker-Passero suggests striking up a conversation with someone using the space during your tour. “Get their business card and contact them later,” she says. “Ask about their experiences and what they like and dislike about the place.”
Test it out
Ask for a free day pass or two. Then, visit during your regular work hours and re-create your typical work day. Are the chairs adjustable and still comfortable after a few hours? Are desks the right height? Test the WiFi speed. Make calls. Print out documents. Take breaks and check out nearby food and drink options. If the space has a kitchen, bring your lunch. Planning on meeting clients? See if a friend can drop by for a quick chat. If have the option, visit on different days. There may be certain days or times that are more crowded or quiet.
Dive into the details
Carefully review the paperwork and contract terms. What are normal operating hours, and do you have to pay extra for 24/7 access? Get a list of any additional fees. Ask to see the conference room schedule. Is it always jammed? Are you guaranteed a certain number of hours’ use each month? Is there always someone on-site if the WiFi goes offline?
At the end of the day, co-working is a great option, Hanson says. “Just ask yourself, ‘Can I be productive here?’ ”