How to Mix Community and Collaborators in a Part-time Workspace

The Problem:

It's not a news flash that most of us are not at the office from 9 to 5 these days. Increasingly, our workforce is focused on greater autonomy and work-life balance, rather than scoring a corner office. Eighty percent of U.S. companies and even the federal government are offering flexible work arrangements that include telecommuting, flexible schedules, part-time or freelance components. About 45% of U.S. employees work from home and one in three Americans are freelancers. Along with millions of other independent consultants, entrepreneurs and freelancers across the globe, I am a small business owner who primarily works from home. At Island Green, we do security  consulting and investigations and were in need of a business address. As I began searching for that simple requirement, I realized that I wanted more than a post office box. As much as I love my stand-up desk and comfortable surroundings, my home office lacks the collaborative energy I enjoyed during my 25-year career in law enforcement. A part-time office where I could network with like-minded individuals, hold client meetings and use meeting space to conduct training programs would be ideal. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Surely someone else had thought of it?

Turns out coworking is a global phenomenon on the rise that meets all these needs and more.  The five values of coworking are openness, collaboration, community, sustainability and accessibility.  Coworking began in Europe in the mid 1990s with a hackerspace in Berlin. In 1999, the first shared desk studio opened in Manhattan and 42west24 still operates today. Indyhall in Philadelphia was one of the first coworking spaces to be bootstrap funded in 2007. Indyhall's founder, Alex Hillman, now hosts a weekly podcast on coworking. In 2008, the San Francisco Bay area's NextSpace was the first coworking organization to be angel funded, raising $425,000 in its first round and $2.5 million in at risk funds by 2013. In August 2010, New Work City was the first coworking space to be crowdfunded with $17,000 from a Kickstarter campaign. The Global Coworking Unconference Conference, or GCUC (pronounced, "juicy"), now has "unconferences" on nearly every continent and calls coworking, "a big, juicy wave of awesomeness that's changing the face of work as we know it."

I recently attended a meeting at The College of Coastal Georgia, during which the founders of The Clubhou.se in Augusta, Georgia, shared the story of their non-profit, cooperatively owned coworking community. The Clubhou.se is housed in what was a vacant 1802 schoolhouse in the downtown historic district and its slogan is "Building Companies & Community". Its membership is tech-centric and began with a hackathon, which led to several participants committing to monthly subscriptions for a coworking space. In its first two years of operation, the Clubhou.se incubated more than 25 startups and created a $5 million annual economic impact in greater Augusta. The cooperative provides its members with desk and meeting space, training, mentorship, a makerspace with tools and supplies, internet, coffee and a network of talent in technology, new media and innovation. Memberships range from $15/day to $499/month.

In a recent GCUC and Emergent Research survey of coworking members, 84% of respondents reported being more engaged and motivated at work, 80% had turned to fellow members for help or guidance, 82% had expanded their professional networks, 83% were less lonely, and 89% were happier as a result of coworking. The average coworking space in the U.S. has 110 members and 70 workstations. There were about 600 coworking spaces worldwide in 2010, and today there are more than 10,000. 

To say that the coworking movement is experiencing explosive growth would be an understatement. The industry has quadrupled in the last five years, and last year more than $1Billion was invested in the industry. According to the Wall Street Journal, WeWork, a global coworking organization started in 2010 and valued at $16.9Billion, ranks ninth among the world's most valuable venture-backed private companies, trailing just behind Snapchat. WeWork's mission is, "To create a world where people work to create a life, not just a living."  

Island Green is based in the beautiful Golden Isles of southeast coastal Georgia, about midway between Jacksonville, Florida to the south, and Savannah to the north. We aspire to become involved in establishing a coworking space in our historic downtown area. The idea of repurposing unoccupied historic buildings to nurture innovation, create community, incubate startups, support small businesses, mentor entrepreneurs, and revitalize the local economy, all while meeting a need in the workplace is so brilliant, it's a no-brainer. Now who's with me?  

Postscript:

April 2018: Sometimes when you wish for things and write them down, they have a way of magically coming true. We just celebrated our one year anniversary at the new coworking space in historic downtown Brunswick, The Wick, where we were the first tenant in the former Royal Hotel with skylights, wood floors, big windows and views of the waterfront. It has been the perfect solution for our business, and we've made new friends, colleagues and business partners.  Come visit! 

ANGELA HRDLICKA