This past week on Tuesday, it was International Coworking Day. This was a worldwide celebration for the coworking movement where entrepreneurs, artists and others “rent” a desk or office inside a cooperative workspace. I attended the BBQ at OfficeXpats,
a coworking space on Bainbridge Island. It ended up being a diet cheat day as I ate two cheeseburgers, had chips, deserts and a beverage (sorry!). Hat’s off to OfficeXpats owners Leslie Schneider and Jason Omens (pictured) for engaging the community with a party.
I have tracked this “culture” for several years and have observations. And while this blog is about start-ups, I have an Office 365 hook below.
Culture. In general, there are three types of coworkers/members based on my research.
Start-ups. First and foremost are the start-ups seeking a physical beachhead in the world of business. These are typically capital-starved entrepreneurs who benefit from the flexible leases ranging from a desk to cubicle to small office. Their tenancy is typically short-term as they either make it or not. If not, they move along down the road. If they make it, the entrepreneurs will often move into permanent larger space. When I’ve walked into different coworking spaces, I’m always surprised at the tenant turnover. For example, at The Hub in downtown Seattle, I spoke with some young entrepreneurs who were trying to create “Uber Movers” where you’d hire a mover for just a few hours, not the full daylong commitment. Fast forward and the “Uber Movers” were gone next visit.
Not for profit. My sister Ginna Brelsford runs a not-for-profit called Sahar and is a tenant in The Hub. She fits the profile of many coworkers seeking a place to work, have interns sit at those long millennial tables, etc. Sahar currently serves 15,000 girls annually in 12 schools in Balkh Province, Northern Afghanistan. They provide access to education for girls through computer centers, innovative and sustainable building designs, training female teachers and piloting a program to prevent early marriage. It dedicated a new school for 3,500 girls in 2011 and are managing the collaborative partnership between philanthropy, architecture and international development. The reason I share this is that donors often require the not-for-profit entity be run from a real office, not a dining room table.
Social Cliques. Defined as “a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them….” I’d say this element is present and accounted for in the coworker movement. There are storytellers, writers, artists, poets, retired execs and even PR people who are really into this movement stuff. I get that but I’m personally not that into it. It’s akin to the hard core “channel clique” in the SMB channel amongst a handful of vendors and compliant partners in our world. Think of it this way. By analogy, there are coworking tenants who are really seeking the B&B experience about getting to really know you versus the anonymity of a hotel room while traveling. Does that make sense?
In 2009, I wrote an article in our SMB PC magazine on Regus, the worldwide executive suite provider, shaking up the need for new office buildings and being an almost counter-cyclical play in the Great Recession. It has a day lounge that I compared to an airline lounge (in fact Regus briefly got into the airline lounge business at one point). To this day, I’m a gold member. That means I can use the business lounge at any of 3,000 locations worldwide (I’ve done so in Istanbul Turkey, Sydney Australia, London GB and countless US locations including the handful of Seattle-sites). I’ve viewed the business lounges as getting me away from the sticky customer tables at Starbucks to get some real work done. Wouldn’t leave home without my Regus gold card.
My friend and colleague Dave Waldrop rented a couple offices inside the Redmond Regus when he directed the start-up attachedapps (see my blog on attachedapps being acquired). Dave needed a more traditional arrangement (read more conservative) as he was raising capital from investors for this venture. I get that. My experience has been that Regus is not an “untraditional” coworking movement space (several coworking organizations advertise against Regus offering a hipper and cooler alternative; Level office ad: “Hipper Office, Lower Cost - Better-Looking Designs & Amenities”).
Now the geek stuff. Back in the Small Business Server (SBS) days, I implemented more than one solution for offices that had sub-tenants and the use of the SBS resources was a benefit that could be shared. I remember touring some early executive suites (including one launched by former Microsoft exec Tony Audino) where IT local area network resources where shared (and billed for). Today that’s all changed. With my Office 365 account and laptop in hand, I work wherever I am. So when I visit a Regus Business lounge, I take advantage of the high-speed WiFi connection and rock on. Worked in Istanbul Turkey (the Regus was in a “Trump Tower”) because my fleabag hotel had no internet connectivity. I literally camped out at Regus for a week!
Next year, mark your calendar for August 9th to participate in International Coworking Day and learn more about this community. The shoe might just fit.