Matt Cullin worked day and night from his cramped Brooklyn apartment. It almost drove him crazy.
"Working alone doesn't afford you any kind of definition between your personal life and your work life," says Cullin, who runs a Web design company, Jade Rapture. "You find yourself working at the strangest hours and letting things slide."
After about four months of working from home, he finally decided he'd had enough.
Two months ago, Cullin joined the Hive at 55, a co-working space in Manhattan's financial district and just a short trip across the East River from his apartment. Since he's been at the Hive (whose motto is "Is Working From Home Not Working?"), Cullin reports that his productivity has tripled. Moreover, he's taken on new projects as a result of people he's met through the facility.
"As soon as I started working here, I began working three times as fast as I was before back in my own little studio," he says. Then, he was hired by Jason Richelson, founder and CEO of ShopKeep, a start-up Web-based cash-register company, to do Web-design work.
Joining a co-working space isn't just about getting out of an unhealthy work situation, though it can certainly accomplish that goal. Here are a few ways that you can use your co-working space to create new opportunities for your business.
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Finding Value in Your Co-working Spaces: The Physical Space
The amenities of co-working spaces are fairly standard. Wi-Fi, coffee, and desk space are the basic accoutrements of any co-working space worth investing in. Some spaces are less than 1,000 square feet and others are more than 10,000. Some have individual desks and others have personal desks. What's important, however, is that you feel that the space enhances your personal creativity and productivity.
A co-working space can be your company's headquarters too. That means no more meeting clients in Starbucks. Matt Cullin, for example, learned quickly that the value of the co-working space conference rooms. Since starting work at The Hive, he's brought in two potential clients. It went well. "Both turned into real clients," he notes.
Even the directors of the co-working spaces recognize that it's more than just having a fancy espresso machine or Herman Miller chairs to complement the offices. In this business, it's all about the intangibles.
"The real value of what we're doing is in the community and not in the space and features," says Tony Bacigalupo, the founder of New Work City, another co-working space in downtown Manhattan. "It's something that a lot of people don't recognize. There have always been ways to rent space in New York—there's no shortage of ways to do it. If you want private space, you can get it. What we sought to build with this space was different: an environment where people will inspire you and who are just good people to be around."
At The Hive, director Daria Siegel and her colleagues sent out a questionnaire to measure the effectiveness of working in the co-working facility. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Eighty one percent of respondents believe their business has benefitted by working at the Hive. "Sure we have a lot of amenities and we're always trying to look for added value things that can bring to our membership," Siegel says. "But that's not what drives people here."
Cost, of course, should be a consideration. But in urban areas, the variation in cost is generally minimal. In New York City, drop-in rates are around $30 a day, $100 per week or $300 per month of unlimited access to the space.
Finding Value in Your Co-working Spaces: Using the Community
Co-working spaces should not only be functional for individuals, but should also foster collaboration, Siegel says. The Hive has been open in Manhattan for nearly a year, since receiving a $100,000 grant from the Bloomberg administration as part of the mayor's MediaNYC 2020 program. It's also part of the Alliance for Downtown New York, which is a city-sponsored group to promote downtown business growth.
Many co-working spaces have a community manager who get to know the members, find out what they're working on, and make connections among members, Siegel says. This person is an invaluable resource. By getting to know the community manager or a well connected employee of the center, you'll be poised to make the connections that may ultimately mean business for you.
"Every day people come up to us and say 'Do you know a graphic designer?' or 'Do you know app developer?'" Siegel says. "We help them match up with other Hive members in that field. We've seen a lot of business development happen through those connections."
It's also necessary to be willing to discuss your projects at a co-working space. This is not a place for recluses; being friendly, in fact, can be a good business strategy. "Sometimes it's just a couple of people who happen to sit next to each other at one of the desks and one will say 'Hey what do you do?'" Siegel says. "The next thing I know one of our members is helping another member launch their website. We see these sort of things happen every day."
And where collaboration is encouraged, the diversity of the clientele is what can make a co-working space so helpful for you and your business. "You can look around a table and you have a lawyer, an accountant, a graphic designer, a programmer and its like 'Wow, if they all got together they could form their own company right there,'" Siegel says.
Tony Bacigalupo, the founder of New Work City, another co-working space in downtown Manhattan, agrees. "We pride ourselves in our diversity," he says. Where people have a number of different skills, there's more potential for members to hire each other and for members to form their own startups together. "People can grow together in ways that would not happen if everyone was already tied to a major project."
Serendipity plays a role, too.
"A lot of times people will just talk about what they're working on or turn to their neighbor and ask them," says Bacigalupo, (who, by the way, was recently featured on the cover of Inc.). "A lot of times it sort of happens accidentally. I'll notice something that's on someone else's screen and it'll be something I've never seen before and I'll ask what it is and we'll end up having a whole conversation about it."
The key is to embrace the values of any good co-working space: collaboration, openness, and community.
Finding Value in Your Co-working Spaces: Networking and Learning
More than just providing a space for doing work, a co-working space can be like your real-life version of LinkedIn. Co-working spaces offer lunchtime events, speakers, and happy hours for members to meet and mingle.
The Hive at 55, for example, does a monthly member lunch series for members to present something he or she is working on. "It's a great way to spread the wealth of knowledge that's going on and get ideas and feedback on things you're working on," says Siegel. In the survey Siegel conducted, almost a third reported that they've learned a new skill since joining the space.
"We consider our members to be experts in their own field," Siegel says. "Even though they may have never taught a class before, maybe they're an expert in social media and will help promote an event if they're willing to get in front of a group who are eager to learn more."
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Finding Value in Your Co-working Spaces: The Right 'Fit'
"Somebody asked me to pitch him on why we were better than another space," says Bacigalupo. "I told him, 'Well to be honest, I don't know where you belong.' It's up to you to decide. I can tell you why we're different, but I'm not going to tell you that we're better for you because I don't know what your needs are."
Co-working spaces are all about trying to find the right 'fit.' If the real value of the space is openness and collaboration, you'll want to surround yourself with the people who can best help you grow. When talking with members of co-working space, it's clear to see why people come. It's not the space; it's the people. "There's a lot of motivated people here," says Cullin. "It's a great environment to be able to bounce ideas off of people." All it takes is doing the homework to find the right place for you.