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The path from coffee shop to office tower has many intermediate stops, which are often coworking spaces. These are places where people share offices until they become large enough to go out on their own. They come in many different forms, and knowing the difference can help you save time when you research alternative spaces.
The concept isn’t new, as several companies operate shared spaces in office buildings all over the world. The larger of these companies are Davinci, Regus and Servcorp. The office spaces tend to be almost generic and corporate, making them a good fit for an accountant who needs a place to meet clients during tax season, a recruiter who doesn’t want to interview job prospects on site, or a lawyer who doesn’t quite have the client base to justify a stand-along office space.
These offices tend to be in convenient locations and offer reception desks, handle mail and delivery, and have some room to expand. Some allow you to use space at other locations, which is nice if you need to travel for sales calls or site visits.
Likewise, many businesses have extra space that they rent out. A quick check on Craigslist may uncover a few. Many companies lease more space than they need because it is available or because they hope to expand. In the meantime, they rent in order to cover costs. This route may be cost-effective, but make sure you work out such details as access to the conference room, use of the copier and parking spaces before conflicts arise.
At the low end of the market, a lot of coffee shops and libraries function as de-facto coworking spaces. A client meeting can be held over coffee rather than at your house; a library has access to the internet and to extensive research assistance. These can be great, low-cost extensions for a home office, but they aren’t terribly professional.
In many larger cities, and some smaller ones, companies are opening coworking spaces that are designed to be livelier than their corporate predecessors. Assemble, Grind and WeWork are among the operators of spaces that are designed to be interesting and collaborative. These spaces often hold networking and social events in addition to offering internet access and copy machines. Many users work in open spaces rather than closed offices. These can have a lot of great energy, but they may not offer the professional, confidential image that some businesses need. On the other hand, they may offer the cutting-edge style that appeals to some clients and potential employees, and the networking can make self-employment less lonely.
In many areas, an interesting hybrid has emerged: a coworking space that is more coffee shop than office. These places tend to have open work spaces rather than cubicles or offices. In an interesting marketing move, some of these are operated by banks and insurance companies looking to meet potential customers. For example, State Farm operates a coworking space in Chicago called Next Door where people can work and get coffee, while simultaneously meeting with business coaches and financial planners. Verizon is working with Grind to run a space in New York City in a building that is used to house telecom switching.
Although coworking isn’t exactly new (Regus was founded in 1989), many entrepreneurs don’t realize that it exists or that many spaces offer very short-term or drop-in access. That gives you a way to expand the footprint of your business without losing the flexibility that so many entrepreneurs crave.