Coworking Spaces Work for Small Business
Many a small business has started life around a kitchen table or in a neighborhood coffee shop. But there comes a time when this workspace model is no longer a viable option. The need to meet with clients in a conference room setting or to have dedicated space for team collaboration drives many small businesses to finally seek out a professional office space. But with the heavy logistical and financial burdens of traditional commercial leasing, more and more small businesses are looking to coworking locations to meet their needs.
Coworking: a growing trend
Today, nearly half a million people worldwide utilize coworking spaces, and this number is expected to double by 2018. What started ten years ago as a largely grassroots enterprise has grown into a viable way of doing business. In addition to the many locally owned facilities that exist in most major cities, a growing number of corporate enterprises are cropping up as well.
Once considered the realm of the freelancer and the tech startup company, coworking is quickly becoming mainstream for the small business community as well. Speaking to Fast Company, Regus CEO Mark Dixon noted, “Coworking allows for businesses to test markets relatively risk free,” before taking the larger financial risk of opening up a traditional office space.
Flexible space options
Most coworking spaces offer a variety of options for space rental. At one end of the spectrum is the flexible access plan which allows members to use shared spaces and desks on a first-come first-served basis. The average solo worker—perhaps simply looking to venture away from the kitchen table a few days a week—will likely find this option suitable. However, small businesses, especially those with several employees, often need more stable amenities. For this, most coworking locations also offer the option of renting a dedicated desk in an open area or going even further by renting an enclosed office within a larger coworking space.
Some small teams find using a mix of a dedicated office space along with communal access serves their needs without breaking the bank. Julien Perry, a food writer at a small online publication housed out of the Coterie Work Lounge in Seattle, says that this model works well for her six-person team. “We have a closet-sized office space that is ours, mostly used by the publisher and president.” According to Perry, the rest of the team finds it easy to be nimble when working with such a small amount of dedicated space. “The rest of us sort of fan out [outside the office] in the same general area.”
Ginna Brelsford, Executive Director of Sahar, a nonprofit that operates out of Seattle’s Impact Hub, works in a similar way. “I only rent fifty five square feet, technically,” says Brelsford. But she notes that her team, which includes two staff and often several interns, spends a lot of their workday floating around in the shared spaces. “We have lots of ways of working with the space, depending on our needs.”
Susan Dorsch, cofounder of the workspace Office Nomads and a founding member of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance, also encourages teams to resist the urge to always sit together. Says Dorsch, “By spreading out they increase the possibility that they will meet someone new who they can learn from and share with.”
Locations that scale
Although many small businesses are finding creative ways to utilize coworking spaces, Chris Hoyt, co-owner of The Pioneer Collective, points out that not every location is equipped to house a small business team as it grows in size. His space doesn’t house startups for this reason. “If you don’t have a large enough space, you can’t scale with them.”
Even if a location is technically large enough, it still may not be ready—or willing—to take on an expanding team, so business owners looking toward future growth are wise to ask plenty of questions about scaling before committing to a space.
As Dorsch notes, “There are some logistical challenges that can come along with teams that each coworking space handles in their own way. As teams get larger they can sometimes tax shared resources more than individuals might and that’s something to continually communicate around.”
Consider all aspects of a space
Once issues of desk space and scaling capabilities have been resolved, it’s important to consider other aspects of a coworking space before signing on. Brelsford lists strong IT capabilities as one of the top considerations for her team. “If you’re going to put that many people into a space with very limited real estate, things like the internet can become extremely challenging,” says Brelsford. “That’s a fundamental piece.”
Meeting and conference room options are also important. Hoyt notes that a good coworking space should have a mix of different sized meeting rooms. “If you’re meeting with a handful of people, a sixteen-person conference room is going to feel too big.”
Community, collaboration, and inspiration
In addition to providing financially feasible office amenities, coworking spaces offer less tangible benefits that small business owners may find appealing. Proponents of coworking tout the movement for helping otherwise isolated workers feel more productive, creative, and connected.
According to a Global Coworking Survey conducted by Deskmag, 71 percent of participants reported a boost in creativity since joining a coworking space, while 62 percent said their standard of work had improved. Likewise, a research team noted in the Harvard Review that people who belong to coworking communities “report levels of thriving that approach an average of 6 on a 7-point scale. This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices.”
For Brelsford (Sahar) the promise of a collaborative space was a big draw. She considers the diversity of her coworking colleagues a source of inspiration. The vibrant community has also helped her to attract new graduates to fill intern roles. “I can’t just go rent some fancy room, but I also don’t want to be in the corner of a church basement all the time,” says Brelsford. “When you are that age [of a newly-graduated intern], coming into a coworking space that is well organized maintains the same level of stimulation you were getting in college. As an employer, it’s an exciting place.”
Perry (Coterie Work Lounge) echoes this sentiment from an employee’s perspective, noting that after two years of working remotely from her cramped apartment, she looks forward to the camaraderie and ambience that a coworking environment provides. “It’s fun to come here, because it doesn’t feel like I’m coming to an office…People are here because they want to be here.”
Despite these potential benefits, Hoyt (The Pioneer Collective), warns against placing too much stock in the intangible rewards of coworking. “I think sometimes the connections aspect is oversold as a benefit,” says Hoyt. “It’s hard to guarantee. A lot of it depends on the person and the timing.”
No matter what draws a small business owner to seek out a coworking space, finding the right fit that meets both current and future business goals is imperative. Most locations offer at least a day, if not a week to try out a space, and almost every source on the subject emphasizes taking advantage of this trial time before making a commitment.
“Every single place is so different,” says Brelsford. “You kind of have to live as much as you can into the space before you are all in.”
Perry puts it another way. Her number one piece of advice to someone looking to cowork is simply, “Find a place that gets you out of bed in the morning.”