Helping Independent Workers Share and Collaborate

Coworking Spaces

Coworking spaces are shared space environments where individuals carry out their tasks and duties in a communal workspace. Unlike a typical office environment, most people using coworking spaces do not work for the same organization. However, there are opportunities for collaborating, networking, and mentoring with other independent professionals in these spaces. The majority of these spaces are used by freelancers, independent tech workers, or entrepreneurs developing startups. Desk and meeting space can be rented either by the hour, day, month or longer, depending on the facility.

Well-equipped coworking spaces typically include essential office equipment such as printers, fax machines, scanners, and wireless internet access.

While the concept and idea of coworking has been around for years, the term was coined in 2005 by Brad Neuberg, a freelance computer programmer and one of the founding members of Spiral Muse, a social workspace for women in San Francisco. While Spiral Muse closed within a year, the concept of coworking did not and similar shared workspaces, both co-operative and for-profit, launched throughout the San Francisco Bay Area – mostly in the tech-startup heavy Silicon Valley area – and eventually spread to other cities.

While coworking spaces have been growing throughout Canada and the world, those who are not familiar with the concept often mistakenly think that they are the same as Virtual Offices, but there are differences between the two types of facilities. A virtual office is a traditional type of office environment, the difference being that the virtual office is shared. But it otherwise follows the conventions of a traditional office: facilities often have a secretary or receptionist, phone, desk, file cabinets, and importantly, private offices.

On the other hand, coworking is much more of a shared environment – workers typically occupy an open space, using private rooms for meetings or phone calls, and may make use of their own cell phones and laptops. Perhaps most significantly, a coworking space brings greater opportunities for collaboration and sharing of resources than a virtual office does.

According to an article from Bloomberg Businessweek on small businesses, a report from Silicon-Valley based Institute for the Future cites coworking spaces as the trend to watch in the next decade. The report’s lead author, Steve King, says the increasing popularity of coworking facilities reflects the increase of one-person businesses as well as a broader fluidity between virtual / online and real-world communities. King also cites the importance of social networks and collaboration for small business owners, and while virtual offices provide many of the same services as coworking spaces, the biggest difference between the two is the opportunity to collaborate with other small business owners. For example, a freelance writer can collaborate with a freelance web developer or designer to create content for a site; that opportunity may not be available if it wasn’t for a coworking space uniting them together.

As a freelance writer, the search for a suitable workspace in which to focus and concentrate on my work and expand my business has been a challenge, so the idea of a coworking space is very appealing. In Atlanta, Georgia, one facility, Strongbox West (http://strongboxwest.com/), boasts dedicated workspace and private rooms. Individuals who work there include freelance web developers, writers, smartphone app creators, PR / marketing specialists and even a food truck operator.

From Vancouver to St. John’s, Canadian coworking spaces provide a variety of environments to appeal to a budding entrepreneur. They can vary from slick office spaces in Toronto’s financial district with space for private offices and conference rooms to smaller spaces with a few desks and a phone in a small town. According to a survey from Deskmag, the number of coworking spaces has doubled every year since 2006. Presently, there are approximately 1800 coworking spaces worldwide and the number continues to grow. So far, around 45 have been launched in Canada.

One such space is CoworkYYC (http://coworkyyc.com/). Located in Calgary’s eclectic Ramsey community, the space includes desk space and chairs for people as well as a conference room, mail boxes, and a shared kitchen. There are also membership packages for people who want dedicated workspace and lockable storage units. Rates vary from $225 a month for three days a week up to $450 monthly for 24 hour / 7 day a week access.

ThreeFortyNine is a shared office located in Guelph, Ontario, and terms itself “an unconference [an accessible, participant-driven meeting] combined with a coworking space.” It is a group of independents who support and collaborate with one another to bring projects and startups to life. Some of ThreeFortyNine’s projects include http://startupify.me, http://trips.threefortynine.com, Startup Train, and DemoCamp Guelph.

In Toronto, Foundery (http://foundery.is/) is a 2000 square foot coworking and event rental space with rates ranging from a $25 day pass to a $290 monthly coworking membership and even the opportunity to lease a private office for $2390 a month. Events held at the facility have included fundraising galas, gallery receptions, workshops, yoga classes, and product launches.

In the Maritimes, The Hub South Shore operates in the town of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. Owners of the facility hope to engage the community and create a meeting place for entrepreneurs in the area, bringing “progressive businesses and people together so innovation and enterprise can thrive… Our vision is for a self-reliant rural economy rooted in the collaboration of local entrepreneurs,” reads the company’s website, http://thehubsouthshore.ca/.

Even software behemoth Microsoft has partnered with coworking spaces throughout Canada to create BizSpark spaces which enable startup companies to test their wares with Microsoft products furnished by the company.

While the concept of coworking spaces is certainly appealing to freelancers and the prospects for growth seem positive, questions about their sustainability and profitability remain. How can a facility operate as a business when it’s essentially a group of different businesses with diverse interests? Coworking spaces can operate as non-profit, for-profit or ‘not-just-for-profit’ facilities depending on the needs and wants of the owners. According to Deskmag, about one out of every 10 coworking space has closed, but at least 72 percent have become profitable after two years of operation. Since coworking is still considered an emerging business model, there are a number of variables that can affect the future of a facility. On average it costs about $58,000 CAD to set up an office and those who open and operate the space carry the biggest risk.

According to a survey from Deskmag, most coworking spaces earn the majority of their revenue by renting out desks; one in ten spaces actually earns all of its money from desk rentals alone. The average space earns 10 percent of its revenue from renting out meeting rooms and another 10 percent from renting out event spaces; food and beverages bring in five percent, and the sale of tickets to workshops and events earns another 5 percent. At least one-third of coworking spaces offer all these services as an all-inclusive package, with no additional costs. For example, meeting rooms are often included with desk rental prices. Other sources of revenue identified by the survey include one-time membership fees, merchandise, public support services, fixed phone lines, commissions, and rental of private offices.

Typically, 70 percent of privately operated coworking spaces that serve 50 or more members turn a profit, while spaces with 10 to 49 members have a profitability rate of about 40 percent. Smaller spaces with fewer than ten members often operate at a loss, although many of these represent newer startups which may grow and increase their membership – and profitability – over time.

Operators of coworking spaces must market their spaces in order to bring people in and make their spaces profitable. Word of mouth can only go so far, but many coworking spaces host networking events to attract professionals to their facilities. Strategic partnerships with local organizations and associations that provide mutually beneficial relationships with business owners can go a long way toward attracting independent workers to coworking spaces. Some facilities provide member referral programs to engage their members in spreading the concept to other freelancers.

As the workforce continually shifts toward an economy with more freelancers and independent contractors, there is certainly room to grow for this new model of working.

October 17, 2017, 4:19 PM EDT

Wind on the Rise

In the world of renewable energy, wind power is growing fast. It is projected that 10 percent of the energy generated in the United States will come from wind farms by 2020. Offshore wind farms are a relatively new addition to the American energy market, but the technology has been well established in Europe and is now taking off state-side as well.