Expert Advice on Co-Working Spaces for Small Businesses

Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Business Start Up Advice [ 0 Comments ]

Whether you’re a small business owner or a freelancer, days spent working on your living room couch as “The Real Housewives of Whatever” plays in the background gets old fast. Heading to the local coffee shop is a step up from the inevitable distractions at home — but taking a table for the day might earn you some angry looks from employees and other customers.

Lucky for you, there’s a global co-working boom, and the opportunity to work alongside other like-minded entrepreneurs could be coming to your city (if it’s not there already). Co-working has grown by 87 percent in the past year, and is up 300 percent from 2010, according to a survey by Deskwanted, the portal for finding and booking co-working spaces and shared offices worldwide. The United States is now home to 781 spaces in large and small cities alike.

To learn more about the trend, we checked in with Joel Dullroy, the co-founder of Deskwanted. Dullroy created the site in 2010 after he learned about the co-working while working as a freelancer in Berlin.

Here’s what he has to say about the advantages of co-working and what to look for when trying to find a space to run your business.

How long has co-working been around?

The idea of individuals working collaboratively in a shared environment is ancient, of course. The current iteration of co-working can be dated back to 2006, when a programmer in San Francisco wrote a blog post encouraging people to work alongside him in a “co-working space.” That was the first time we saw it described as such, and the trend grew from there.

What do you think has contributed to the boom in co-working worldwide?

Co-working is entirely driven by the rise of the freelancer, the entrepreneur and the start-up. Freelancing is growing in all industries in most developed countries, and there are some predictions that freelancers will make up the majority of the workforce in a few years (for better or for worse). Entrepreneurs and start-ups are similarly on the rise, especially now that they are being championed by governments in most countries. These individuals need a place to work, somewhere more engaging and productive than their living room. It was this need that co-working emerged to meet.

Why do you think co-working is a good solution for small business owners? What are the biggest benefits?

Small business owners can gain a lot by co-working. Our research shows that co-working helps individuals improve productivity, grow business networks, and — as a result — increase income. Think of it this way: joining a co-working space means you instantly plug into a network of between 20 and 100 individuals, who each have their own networks. It’s the perfect way to tap into a huge community, and enjoy the benefits that access and interaction can bring.

It also helps you feel better. There’s nothing worse than striking out completely on your own, with no support or encouragement. A co-working space helps you reduce your isolation and boost your productivity.

What are the biggest complaints about co-working?

People usually complain about noise in a co-working space. Some workspaces try to mitigate this by providing phone booths or small telephone call rooms. Others use background white noise or clever interior design to deflect sound. But to some extent noise is unavoidable when you have a large group of individuals doing their own thing. It’s a small price to pay for the benefits, though. I would suggest wearing headphones or encouraging your co-working space to have silent areas.

If someone lives in an area without a co-working space, what’s the best way to start one?

Before you start a co-working space, it’s a good idea to build a community of people who would be the potential users. You can do this without even having a physical location. You can host a “jelly” — a regular meet-up of freelancers in a location such as a library or cafe. You can host other meetings in the evenings. This way you’ll get to know how much demand there is for your idea. The worst idea is to open a space with no connection to any existing group or community. Find the people first, then the space.

What are the most important things to consider when choosing a co-working space?

Make sure it fits your personal style. Some locations are very community-focused; that’s good if you like getting engaged, but might not be for you if you’re a lone wolf who doesn’t like sharing your story. Some are very professional, which is good if you like the classic office style, but bad if you want a more relaxed casual atmosphere.

How expensive is co-working? What kind of expenses can you anticipate outside of the basic rental fee?

In Europe, a permanent desk with 24-hour access will cost an average of €352 (US $547) a month. For a cheaper option, you can take a flexible desk (one you must clear off at the end of the day) during office hours for an average of €194 (US $251) a day. In the US, a permanent desk costs an average of $498, and a flexible desk costs $209. Most spaces include all their costs in the monthly bill, although some charge extra for meeting room usage and services such as mail delivery or phone answering. Those with 24-hour access may take a key deposit.

Cost-wise, how does co-working compare to running a business from home?

It’s always cheaper to stay at home, but you have to look at the opportunity cost: how many potential customers or business partners did you miss out on meeting by sitting alone in your kitchen? You should consider the price of a co-working desk an investment in growing your network and improving your productivity. Our studies have shown that about 40 percent of co-workers actually increase their income by joining a space. That’s because they have more opportunities, create more connections and get more done.

In your opinion, what are some of the neatest features of co-working spaces you’ve come across? (Spaces with the coolest amenities, communities with the most fun networking events, etc.)

I think phone boxes are a great feature, especially old-fashioned ones. One space in Vancouver constructed their own phone quiet corner using old phone books as bricks — a very neat idea! Many spaces have great bike facilities, such as wall-mounted bike racks. Office Nomads in Seattle has a Tweet alarm that lights up whenever the space gets an @-mention (@OfficeNomads). Lots of spaces are making great progress with weekly breakfast networking events, many of which are open to outsiders — a great way to grow a community. Some spaces have silent rooms, which is a very nice way to give users a variety of working environments. White noise machines help create a balanced background sound which paradoxically helps keep things quiet.

Learn more:

If you’re interested in trying co-working, Dullroy recommends  searching on Deskwanted, which lists more than 1,500 coworking spaces and shared offices online, in more than 50 countries.

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Photo courtesy of .dh/Flickr

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