Congratulations! Your small business has outgrown your couch, garage, and the local coffee shop. You now have the revenue and business demand to move into an office space, but the decision isn't easy.
You can go the traditional office route, where you'll sign a lease and provide everything from furniture to a phone system -- or you can consider a coworking space. Coworking spaces take away the hassle of scaling your business. Everything is provided, from furniture to internet and phones, along with coffee, printing, and mail services. It's less work, but there are drawbacks too, so coworking isn't right for every business.
How does coworking work?
Coworking spaces generally offer a number of usage and space options. Part-time memberships usually allow the use of common spaces for a limited amount of times per month. A shared-space membership entitles one person to use any common work areas during normal business hours. There are more personalized options including dedicated desks where a person rents a desk that's permanently theirs, and private offices.
In most cases, prices are per person. If you're a small company with one or two people, any of the options could work. Most coworking spaces have large tables, couches, and various seating choices in their common areas. They will also have conference rooms of various sizes and phone booths for private calls. Some even have recording studios for recording podcasts!
Shared spaces inherently lack privacy, so perhaps you decide to take a private office option. Pricing is generally based on how many people the office accommodates. A single-person office may have room for a second person to work, but that might require the second person to buy a day pass or pay for a second membership.
Not all coworking spaces are the same. Some, for example, charge extra for 24/7 access, while others don't. In addition, some allow officeholders unlimited guests, while others charge or only dole out a certain amount of guest passes.
It's a good idea to do a trial run before committing to a membership and most coworking offices will offer you a day pass if you ask. When you visit for a test day of work, make sure to note the volume and crowdedness of the space, and decide whether it's an environment that would benefit your business.
Is coworking right for your company?
For the past two-and-a-half years, I've located my business (more or less just me and my laptop) in a traditional office (quite lonely) and three different coworking spaces. The first two shared offices I tried catered to start-ups, and the vibe was a little too much "free beer and Foosball" for me. Neither was within walking distance, and since I live downtown and don't want to drive to work, neither was a good fit.
The third space opened about a half mile from my front door last year. It's a very professional-looking office that caters to established businesses more so than start-ups. I started with a shared-space membership and then moved to a dedicated desk so I could leave a second monitor and charging cables there.
It's an expensive choice ($525 a month plus tax), but being in an office adds to my productivity. I also enjoy casual conversation with others, and should I need a conference room or private space, I'm entitled to use one for a few hours per month.
For companies with more than one employee, the decision between coworking and a traditional office can be more challenging. If you want total control, then coworking may not be right for you (many spaces have rules about guests, decorating your office, and some aren't accessible 24/7). Some coworking companies can accommodate whole small companies or departments within designated areas, you'll just need to speak with the manager of the space to see if that's available.
Coworking is easy. In many cases, you also have the option of going month-to-month, whereas traditional offices generally require multiyear commitments. Shared spaces are also entirely turnkey, but that's not right for every company (you might want an office filled with communal tables instead of desks -- or the reverse).
For a company making its first foray into office space, coworking spaces are a smart way to figure out what your needs are. You can try various options and figure out if you want a community and not having to worry about internet, printers, coffee, cleaning the bathroom, and who knows what else. It's also possible that working in a shared space will teach you that you do want your own space -- even with the hassles that entails. You could save money up for a long-term office lease while you work in a coworking space in the meantime. Coworking offices are a great resource for small-business owners to consider throughout the stages of their business's life.
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