Consider the now-ubiquitous co-working space, where freelancers and founders rub elbows. Such spots, of course, promise flexible leases and ready-made culture--and many distractions. A co-working space co-founder and a founder whose company started at a co-working space--but eventually fled--discuss the pros and cons.

Do co-working spaces help with building a coherent corporate culture, or undermine it?

Ethan Agarwal: In our co-working space, the guy next to us was a jeweler, and there was a small PR firm and the local office of an industrial company. The people around us were not startup people, so the culture wasn't that.

Nick Iovacchini: A good co-working space has a community feel and a pulse. Creating culture in your own business is a challenge--a big investment of time and energy. Having support and guidance can be a real asset.

How can you ensure productivity?

Agarwal: I can't tell you how many times you'll be kicked out of a conference room because there's something wrong with the booking process or the phone booth, or something is broken.

Iovacchini: We've found people are productive in different environments. In a co-working environment, you can have centralized meeting locations, and then people can find their own nooks and crannies. That variety is really important.

Does working near other companies promote collaboration?

Agarwal: You can easily hear what everyone is saying and what they're talking about. They can hear what you're saying and talking about. Confidentiality is nearly impossible. You're much more productive when you're working only with people on your team.

Iovacchini: Today's world of remote work can be isolating. The energy that's in our environments helps prop people up. It's helpful to have people around you who either are going through something similar or can offer different perspectives in your tough spots.

Are these good places to grow your professional network?

Agarwal: I would not want someone to walk up to me cold in a shared office and say, "Hey, let's work together." That we're on the same floor is irrelevant to whether we should work together.

Iovacchini: You may not have avenues to grow your network. A co-working space then provides the best opportunity to make professional connections.

Advantage: Iovacchini

Inc. is totally Team Agarwal. But researchers at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business found that employees in co-working spaces report a higher level of thriving than those working in traditional offices. The researchers also cite an enhanced sense of community--and say that co-working spaces may even encourage distinct organizational identities.

From the July/August 2019 issue of Inc. Magazine