The Free Agent

Blueprint for a Co-Working Space

modern office interior

Co-working is a trend that we here at North Bay Startup take very seriously. More than just a few businesses sharing office space, co-working is part office space, part meeting place, part coffee shop, and part creative co-op. Co-working as a trend is made possible by the rapid rise of “free agent nation” — those independent contractors and the self-employed who conduct business using digital tools.

I know a large number of people who have left “corporate America” to pursue their freelance and startup dreams, fueled in part by this economy that makes being an independent hardly any more risky than staying in the enterprise world. And I know a large percentage of the same people with the same complaint — working at home has its challenges!

It’s hard to justify the overhead of a private office when you’re freelancing. Even if you’re building a larger startup, your workers may be scattered around the county, or the state — even internationally! And the coffee + WiFi alternative — Starbucks et al. — awesome though it may be, just doesn’t fill all needs some of the time.

Sonoma County, I’m sorry to say, is way behind the times when it comes to co-working. We need at least one major co-working space in each city. Right now there’s virtually zip. A few initiatives are underway, but I haven’t seen anything to compare with what you’ll find in the larger markets like San Francisco, Austin, New York.

Here’s my blueprint for an ideal co-working space:

  • Professional – the setup and policies need to ensure people at the space conduct themselves in a professional manner. Keep the politics and in-jokes to a minimum. This is a real office space to get serious business done and impress big clients.
  • Inspirational – it has to look snazzy, well-lit, airy, and clean. No funky stuff on the walls, junk in the corners, dirty refrigerators, etc. Think Apple Store chic, not somebody’s basement vibe.
  • Affordable – various use of the space should start at a minimal cost and max out at a reasonable subset of private office space. $100-200 a month is a tight squeeze for some, $400 out of the question.
  • Technical – the registration, check in/out, and other processes should be extremely sophisticated and automated. Connectivity options should be world-class.
  • Useable – as great as Starbucks is, all you get is an uncomfortable chair and a tiny table. A great co-working space needs a perfect blend of tables, desks, ergonomic accessories, lounge areas, conference rooms, private call rooms, and a media/podcasting room (for recording video, taking photos, etc.).
  • Helpful – last but not least, the point of working at a co-working space is the potential for group collaboration and mutual assistance. If you have marketing people, writers, designers, programmers, salespeople, consultants, speakers, investors, trainers, and so forth all mingling together in a semi-regular basis, the creative potential there is immense. Sponsor networking groups, seminars, presentations, and a system of trading services that is fair to all involved. The net positive of being a part of the co-working space should far outweigh the basic financial investment.

What do you think? What are you looking for in a great co-working space?

Jared White is Editor-in-Chief of North Bay Startup. He has worked in the field of technology journalism for over 15 years and headed up several online blogs and media properties before founding NBS. He is also the owner and Creative Director at Siteshine, a digital media agency located in Santa Rosa, CA. You can reach him on Twitter @jaredcwhite.