Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular for freelancers, start-ups, and small businesses. But what are they and more importantly, should you consider using one?
What are they?
Co-working spaces are offices in which individuals or small groups can rent desks or private offices instead of investing in a building of their own. It is intended mostly for smaller teams or individuals who wouldn’t get full use out of an entire office unit.
Why would you prefer them over a traditional office?
There are a few pros to co-working spaces that give them a definite advantage over the traditional office. First, freelancers and digital nomads get the benefits of working alongside other people, even though they are doing their own work and not technically part of the same team. They get the advantages of a communal workspace with the flexibility of being able to move on or work by themselves when they need to.
Second, for small teams, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to invest in an office of their own or enter into a lease agreement when they won’t be using all the available space.
Also, if a team is growing rapidly, they will quickly outgrow any office space that they invest in, so it is less than ideal to enter into, for example, a five-year lease agreement. It is more logical to use a co-working space and simply upgrade your rental agreement to include more desks or seats.
For example, let’s look at WeWork’s Bloor Street co-working space in Toronto. It has options to rent a dedicated desk, a ‘hot desk’ (more on that later) or a private office with anywhere from 1 to 50 seats. In fact, it even provides a phone number to call if you want a space for teams larger than 50.
Imagine you are part of a startup with just seven employees – you can rent a private office with seven seats to suit your needs. If another three people join your team over the course of a few months, it is much more favorable to negotiate an agreement for a larger private office, than to find yourself stuck in a lease agreement for an office that is suddenly too small.
Furthermore, it is easy for co-working spaces to provide amenities like fully outfitted kitchens, cleaning services, and top-of-the-line office equipment and supplies, because those costs are covered by rent from the occupants. On the contrary, a small team with their own office might find it hard to afford these amenities, simply because the cost per head would be much higher. But when it’s spread out between multiple companies and individuals, conveniences like these are quite doable.
And let’s not forget the multitude of desk and workstation options. Most co-working spaces offer a good mix of private offices, collaborative or communal areas, and individual desks or shared tables. Many co-working spaces will offer a ‘hot desk’ plan, which allows you to use any of the shared desks or tables in the communal space. You don’t get a desk to call your own, but you will have access to any desk or table that is in the shared space, much like working in a public place like a coffee shop. However, unlike a coffee shop, you will be guaranteed a desk space since you are paying for it and will have access to the amenities provided by the company as part of your rental agreement.
What is the cost and what are your payment plan options?
Payment schedules for co-working spaces usually use a month-by-month structure. This is perfect for individuals and teams of all sizes for a few reasons.
The most obvious benefit of the payment structure is for location independent workers, or ‘digital nomads’ who don’t stay in one place for long. They have a space they can call their own for the few months that they are in the area, but they can leave with no strings attached when it’s time to move on.
It also gives all types of workers an opportunity to test different types of workspaces. For example, a worker could commit to a shared ‘hot desk’ plan for a month only, to see if it works with their schedule and work style. If it doesn’t, it’s easy to change your plan to a dedicated desk or even a private office for subsequent months. It also means that rapidly growing teams can easily find larger spaces or private offices if they are taking on new employees.
The cost of individual co-working spaces usually depends on the cost of real estate in that location. However, most co-working spaces should offer a walk-through or tour of some kind so that you can see whether the space is right for you before you commit to working there for a month or more. Many also publish pricing right on their website, so you can compare prices, amenities, and locations before visiting the ones that appeal to you.
Who are the biggest contenders in the co-working space industry?
WeWork is one of the best-known co-working office space coordinators, as they connect over 280 co-working spaces in 30 countries. However, many cities these days will have individual co-working spaces owned by smaller companies. Check out this page from office design project curator Office Snapshots to see examples of co-working spaces from all over the world.
Why might it be better not to use a co-working space?
Co-working spaces do boast a lot of benefits, and it might seem like the right thing to do right now is pack up your laptop and jump on board. But there are a few caveats to working in a shared space like this.
The biggest downside of using a co-working space is how little control you have over your office environment. Your office environment has such a significant impact on company culture and employee interaction that it might not be in your best interest to go to a place in which you have very little control over the environment and the atmosphere surrounding you. It also means that you can’t lay out the space in a way that suits your team or make any significant changes to the décor or the design.
It also might impact your company’s credibility in the eyes of some potential customers. People could view your business as more credible if you have a physical business location for your company alone. To occupy your own physical location, as opposed to sharing a co-working space, gives the impression of being a well-established business – there is something reassuring and trustworthy about a company that owns some real estate. However, many startups have done well out of spaces like these, so it really depends on your customer base and brand image.
For individuals, you might find the lack of space customization to be a problem if you are accustomed to setting up shop all around your desk with various fixtures and décor. Some co-working spaces have rules about leaving your things at your desk overnight, so it’s probably not a good idea to assume you can leave your desk accessories, notebooks, and other items when you leave the space for the night.
Also, if you opt for a ‘hot desk’ or shared desk, you will not be able to leave anything at all because someone else will be using that space after you. It’s comparable to working in a library or coffee shop all day in that you have to leave no trace behind when you leave the space.
Finally, you can’t control the people around (although you can give them gentle reminders), and you might find that other people’s habits or the noise level at a co-working space is too much for you; some people might like to work with music, some might be on video calls all day, others might ask for your opinion more often than you’d like. Of course, some of these can happen in a traditional office too – just weigh your options before you decide.
Co-working spaces are on the rise, and it’s up to you to decide whether it’s right for you. If you currently telecommute but have trouble staying focused on your own, you might be better off surrounded by others who are working. If you get distracted easily by what other people are doing, it might not be such a good idea – or maybe you just need to rent a private office.
It all comes down to your personal work style and preferences for where, how, and with whom you work.