NASE News

Co-Working: The Home Office Alternative

By Kim O’Connor

Working in a home office can be notoriously isolating, but many micro-business owners can’t justify the expense or the commitment required to lease a commercial office space.

For many years, folks who needed a break from their home offices had only one real alternative: the coffee shop. And as anyone who has worked out of one can tell you, coffee shops are rarely conducive to a hard day’s work.

Whether it’s a screaming baby, a lack of Internet access, or the necessity of packing up your laptop every time you break for the restroom, it seems like there’s always some disruption.

Recently, a thriving alternative to home offices and coffee shops emerged: co-working.

Co-working is a flexible system that lets you rent a desk in a shared office space by the day, week or month.

The co-working movement has gained considerable momentum since the first sites opened in California in 2005. Deskmag, an online magazine about co-working, reports that there are now 820 active co-working spaces in the world, almost half of which are in the U.S.

If the co-working craze hasn’t hit your town yet, there’s a good chance it will soon. Here’s the information you need at hand to take advantage of the trend.


What You Get

In fostering an environment in which everyone is actually working, co-working spaces help boost productivity by minimizing distractions.

That increased productivity can be measured in dollars. According to Deskmag’s 2011 Global Coworking Survey, which had 661 participants in 24 countries, 42 percent of the co-workers surveyed reported a rise in income after joining a co-working space.

In terms of facilities, co-working sites offer many of the same benefits as commercial offices at a fraction of the cost. They come equipped with all the business basics:

  • Meeting spaces
  • Fax machines
  • Copiers
  • Printers
  • Even coffee machines


Many also offer mail services for a nominal fee.

Moreover, co-working spaces provide a sense of community that’s often hard to come by in the self-employed world. Co-working sites usually offer shared kitchens and other communal areas that provide opportunities for formal business networking and informal community building.

Angela Valavanis, owner of Creative Coworking in Evanston, Ill., decided to open her co-working facility when she grew tired of working out of her laundry room. Like many of her counterparts across the nation, fostering personal connections among her customers has been an important part of her mission.

“My goal is to build a supportive community for our members, not just an office,” she explains. “I’ve invited local artists to display their work in our space. That helps connect members of Creative Coworking to the larger community of creative, hardworking individuals.”


What It Costs

Co-working fees vary by region, of course, but they also vary by facility.

Some offices have options that range from counter-style seating to private, furnished offices. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay $10 to $35 to drop in for the day.

Many co-working spaces now offer discounted flex passes that let you purchase a pack of day passes (say, for five or 10 visits) that you can use as you need them.

Month-to-month memberships are also common, with rates that run around $150 to $350 a month depending on how much access you need.

Full-time members often receive perks such as a dedicated desk and around-the-clock access.

The best discounts are usually reserved for customers who are willing to make a long-term commitment. Signing a lease of six months or more might help you lock in a great rate, but many co-workers prefer the flexibility of short-term arrangements.

“I’d say avoid a space that requires you to commit to a specific membership level for a long period of time,” Valavanis advises. “We allow people to upgrade or downgrade their level of membership on a monthly basis, as their needs change.”

She also recommends asking about referral bonuses if you have friends or colleagues who are interested in co-working.


Where To Go

Whether you live in a small town with just one co-working space or a big city with offerings in the double digits, it’s important to make sure you find a shared office that fits your needs.

To learn more about what’s local, get started with a Web registry like coworkingregistry.org or loosecubes.com. The latter even lets you search for a co-working facility using variables such as proximity and amenities.

Many people prefer co-working spaces that are close to home, but other locations can be useful, too.

For example, if you live in the suburbs, a co-working office in the city can be a great spot for client meetings that require more privacy and professionalism than the local coffee shop can offer. (It’s hard to put on a PowerPoint presentation at Starbucks.)

Co-working spaces are also a great option for travelers. The cost of a desk is often comparable to what you might pay for Internet access at a hotel.

Most co-working offices will let you schedule an appointment to tour the facilities before you plunk down your cash. As you take in the atmosphere, engage your senses to get a feel for the environs. Will it gel with your work habits? Is it too loud, too quiet or just right?

Try to schedule your visit around lunchtime, when folks who work there are more likely to be available for a chat.

If you like what you see, start with a day pass. At that point, you have little to lose with plenty of potential for gain.


Kim O’Connor is a freelance writer who wishes there was a co-working space in her Chicago neighborhood.


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