The entrepreneurial world is abuzz with the sound of coworking. Coworking spaces exist to provide entrepreneurs and freelancers with shared resources and opportunities for collaboration. At a minimum, most spaces provide shared desks, Wi-Fi, conference rooms, free coffee—you get the idea.
The number of coworking spaces around the world has doubled in the last two years, according to Deskmag.com. Coworking is hot, really hot. Some spaces opt for a for-profit model, generally aiming to cover rent and build a tight-knit community. Others go the nonprofit route, with lofty goals to build an entrepreneurial hub or revitalize a neighborhood.
With coworking spaces on the rise, we’ve been on a reconnaissance mission of sorts to determine the top 10 elements most often responsible for making a coworking space work.
Most successful coworking spaces in the U.S. are over 5,000 square feet—building a community requires some space. Now this is a coworking extreme, but uber-successful 1871 based in Chicago recently expanded its 50,000 sq. ft. facility to 75,000 sq. ft. According to Deskmag’s 3rd Global Coworking Survey, 29% of spaces surveyed plan to add extra desks and 36% will open a second location. In this case, bigger is often better.
The More The Merrier
Why bigger? It means entrepreneurs and freelance designers, developers, gamers, writers, you name it, can all congregate in one space—that’s when creative things happen. Greater diversity in industry/sector AND in age, gender, race and ethnicity leads to more members finding more value in the space. A word of caution: be sure all members are there for the right reason, and aren’t there solely to sell their services to unsuspecting coworkers. The coworking space must be a trusted place to work and collaborate.
Give The People What They Want
This safe place also comes with the usual amenities required for business and depending on the members, some spaces offer an on-site gym, tech shop or maker space and/or training rooms, plus fun perks, like happy hours, games, bike repair and pop-up lunches/food trucks. Some coworking spaces offer accelerator programs or intensive multi-month training programs. The Iron Yard in Greenville—with 10 other Southeastern locations—offers accelerator programs in digital health, open tech and green tech AND an academy of courses in professional junior level programming.
Not only does the space need to be functional, but it must also be attractive and inspirational. Coworkers need comfortable, mobile workspaces and have come to expect an industrial design aesthetic, open floor plans, lounge areas, lots of natural light and interesting collaboration aids. It must appeal both to the creative, fresh-out-of-college entrepreneur, and the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation who may support the space and use it as a source for ideation and talent prospecting. Looks matter so much that there are even coworking space designers, such as the super-creatively named uuushh*.
Location, Location, Location
Ideal locations typically have easy access, free parking, walk- and bike-ability and ample dining and retail options. Coworking spaces thrive in different areas—some can be in the heart of downtown, like 1871 in Chicago, or on the outskirts of town, like Junction440 in Detroit. If neighborhood revitalization is a goal of the space, the fringes of a major city can work with efforts to make the space viewed as a destination.
Many best practice coworking locations are launched and supported by extensive public, private, philanthropic partnerships, but many also run successful operations with a for-profit model. Nothing guarantees success, but securing the support of several diverse and notable sources doesn’t hurt. Take 1776 in DC; maybe you’re familiar with some of their sponsors? Microsoft, Comcast, American Airlines, the Mayor of DC, Deloitte, American University, to name a few.
It Takes A Village … To Raise An Entrepreneur
Coworking spaces compete with coffee shops, home offices and other public spaces. What will draw an entrepreneur to a coworking space and keep him or her coming back? It’s about community. Without it, you have a few desks, and maybe a few people if you’re lucky; no energy, no collaboration, no incentive to return. Coworkers come back because they want to—their peers expect to see them, they get more work done, they build their network, they grow a better business faster.
Saved By The Bell
Entrepreneurs learn new lessons every day, whether from a casual conversation with the right person, some good research and testing, or hopefully less often, a big mistake. Most entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they’ve uncovered the need for a new or improved product or service, not always because they know how to run a business, validate a product or take it to market. Coworkers often offer to teach courses related to their businesses to fellow coworkers. And guess what that does? Builds community, engages coworkers in the success of the space, and vets and promotes their own businesses. LaunchHouse in Cleveland offers accelerator programs, several student education programs, office hours, meetups, hack events and more … and the place is always packed.
Be the Rookie
Coworking is just a baby in the business world. According to Deskmag, “40% of all current coworking spaces today are less than a year old.” Coworking is still hot and generally in high demand in smaller cities that haven’t yet caught the cowork bug.
Seize The Opportunity
The 4th Global Coworking Survey found the “number of people seeking coworking spaces continues to outstrip the number of workspaces on offer.” Assessing demand for coworking can be tough; early marketing and founding member recruitment are great for demonstrating need. Be an entrepreneur. Test and go for it.
Coworking spaces aren’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. The Global Coworking Survey found that coworkers indicated a 71% increase in creativity, a 93% increase in social circles and an 86% increase in business networks. With the right support, model, programming and buzz, coworking works.