The new, great trend in professional workspaces is Co-Working. Simply put, to share space. To have a cooperative, shared office or retail environment that serves the professional community and their unique needs in a common place.
Co-Working is a relatively new idea, but one that appears to be creating a subset of innovation, community and productivity. It’s more than just cutting the costs of rent. It’s about building connections.
For about fifteen years, the trend for professionals was telecommuting. “Hey, let’s save gas money and work from home. It will be SO convenient, right?” Telecommuting offered professionals the incentive to spend more time with their families and less time in gridlock. But there was a price to be paid. Most at-home workers found themselves increasingly isolated from their peers and void of human interaction. The kind of face-to-face communication, in fact, that energized their work. Instead of becoming more productive, they were distracted by their home environment and other responsibilities. Plus, there was always that issue of where to host a client, should you need to meet them. You don’t really want to bring a client or potential customer into your home, with the muddy foyer and the beagle’s dog hair floating everywhere. Nor do you always want to meet them at the local coffee shop.
Co-working communities began to crop up, over the past few years. It offered an alternative to the traditional office workplace and the isolation of telecommuting. Co-working also has a secondary benefit, by taking old office buildings and warehouses and repurposing them for the modern business world. It’s about dividing space up in unique and responsive ways. Sharing costs and yes, sharing energy.
Look at Detroit, as an example of how co-working has served the purpose of bringing professionals together in repurposed spaces. With globalization came the outsourcing of many jobs in Industry. The Auto Manufacturers (The Big Three, anyway) are still technically based in the Motor City but many plants have relocated elsewhere. As have many of the suppliers, technical support and designers of the automotive industry. As much of the auto industry began to roll out to other areas of the United States, and beyond, so too did some of the other businesses that supported the car industry. Insurance and software providers, for instance. All those office complexes, built from the 1950s to the 1990s, suddenly began to go dark.
The issues that face a once-great city like Detroit don’t all stem from the migration of the auto industry and the closure of office buildings and factories. But a prime example of the consequences of what happened to Detroit from the 1990’s to the economic crisis of 2008 was the abandonment of many of the city’s professional buildings. The warehouses and offices and small assembly plants – many also were shuttered during the past two decades.
But some smart person, someone with a fresh and unique perspective, looked at those buildings. Some were in disrepair. Many had been taken hostage by local graffiti artists. Many were also in high-crime, but also high-traffic areas. Well, that innovator looked at those buildings and understood that, while they could not be what they once were, something new could be crafted from the remains.
The Rust Belt Market in Ferndale, Michigan (just one suburb outside of the big city) is a prime example. Formerly a Super Gap retail location poised at the extremely high-traffic intersection of Woodward Boulevard and 9 Mile Road, the Rust Belt now has opened the space up to smaller craft and retail “booths”. Everything from vintage clothing to homemade soaps to those nifty “air plants” and ironworks are made and sold to the public in an open market space. Offices, too, throughout the Metropolitan Detroit area were converted from single-ownership and occupancy to individualized spaces.
All across America, in cities like Detroit and Newark and Pittsburgh and yes, even in Rapid City, South Dakota, buildings have been transforming under the guidance of visionary designers and business leaders. New intentions and new designs were brought in to existing spaces, with the purpose of creating a new working model. Co-working has swept not only the largest cities of the U.S., it’s a global phenomenon. And it exists in every corner of the professional world.
There are many co-working spaces and networks in South Dakota. The Bakery in Sioux Falls is one such space. Clint Brown and Brian Rand had a marketing business. In early 2014, they wanted to find a way to offer their services for free, one day a week. They believed that this would be a great way to better connect with potential customers, but only if they could meet face to face. Add in a free lunch and a local speaker and who wouldn’t want to come learn and grow their connections in such a fun way?
They started meeting on Friday afternoons and invited local business owners and managers to join them. That group began to grow, week by week. Their business was reaping the benefits and by that summer, Clint and Brian had a staff of fifteen people for their company. They needed a new space to work from and someone suggested they check out an old bakery near downtown Sioux Falls. But rather than just leasing the space, renovating it and moving in, they thought about how they could actually serve those peers they met with every Friday for lunch. They started thinking further, beyond their immediate circle. What about the people who were leasing small but ridiculously priced offices near Downtown? What about those who really, really weren’t getting anything done by working from home? What about all of those who had been working independently, but missed the energy of being around other entrepreneurs? The Bakery became more than a single-focus office. It became a collaborative space and experience – expanding beyond rooms to rent to offer open networking and events. By early 2017, the Bakery now has over 400 members and has reached out to create a cross-network of other co-working spaces across the region.
I asked Clint Brown about the choice to repurpose The Bakery for co-working. “People love to come together and love to be in spaces that inspire. We often choose environments that say something about who we are. Think of how your office is decorated and laid out. Think of the house you chose. We knew there was a revival hiding within these old walls. We just let it out.”
The Bakery, like many co-working networks, connects to their community through Social Media. “We mostly interact through events and Facebook. We have had over 500 events for various segments of the Sioux Falls community. We also have 8000+ Facebook fans. We have hosted everything from Bible studies to maker fairs to pitch competitions.”
Here in Rapid City, we have two co-working office options: The OWN and The Garage. The Garage is housed in the former Import auto repair shop on St. Joseph Street, in the growing “East of Fifth” downtown neighborhood. Offices can be leased for rates as low as $100 monthly and, like many of the co-working networks, finds a way to open their doors to guests and the public, showcasing the options and adaptability of the space.
One example is through the monthly “Morning Fill Up” hosted by the Numad Group, a communications organization. These early morning conversations bring in a new guest each month to talk about their creative endeavors, political ambitions and passionate pursuits. Guests like Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender, shortly after the 2015 election and Benedictine nun Sister Lorane Coffin of the St. Martin Monastery. This January 26th, you can join the Morning Fill Up to learn about the U.S. Census Department with Deirdre Dalpiaz Bishop, Chief of the Geography Division. Find out how Western South Dakota can reap the benefits of federal funds based upon our growing demographics, mix and mingle with your neighbors at the Garage and grab a cup of fresh brewed coffee.
Also, in Rapid City, The OWN is a professional network, supporting women in business. They offer two co-working spaces, both located downtown. Their offices above Murphy’s provides private conference rooms and a shared, open, drop-in office environment (known as “The Commons”) and their space above the Firehouse Winery has open desktop spaces and private offices. Each office has its own feel, and atmosphere. The Commons is light, airy and energizing and the desktop/private space has a warmer and more cozy, industrious vibe. Whether you’re looking to just meet a client, pop in and get some bookkeeping work done on your laptop, teach a workshop or hunker down for a long-term project, The OWN offers space and support services (like marketing and several social events each month) to the women they serve (they also have some male members that contribute to the services available to the women in the network.)
Co-working seems to meet the demands of the growing entrepreneurial market. Smaller space, fewer costs, but less responsibility for maintaining an entire office oneself. Plus, sharing your time and thoughts with your peers. Some of the events The OWN hosts at The Commons each month: a monthly potluck and an afternoon meeting called “The ASK” where members can share referrals with one another.
Clint Brown sees a real future for co-working communities, like The Bakery. “The industry will continue to grow. A few big brands will emerge. WeWork (which started in New York City and has expanded to nineteen American Cities and thirteen additional countries) is off to a clear lead. It will be like any other industry, three to four giants and boutique versions nationwide. It will begin to commoditize and specialized experiences will emerge. Shared workspace will be the norm in five years. Going into a central office will become the minority of experiences.”
The Bakery is taking the notion of co-working to a new and exciting level: over the past year they have reached out to many of the other co-working spaces in the state (including The OWN in Rapid City) and created a reciprocal relationship. So, if folks from Sioux Falls come out to the Black Hills, they can work out of The OWN’s Commons, and vice versa. The Bakery’s outreach network includes co-working spaces in five cities throughout South Dakota.
It’s not just business owners choosing to co-work. Many employees are able to save their company significant amounts of rent and utilities by leasing co-working space instead of traditional offices. And now, we’re seeing the office co-work phenomenon expand into the creative realm, like Ferndale’s Rust Belt Market. Art cooperatives, like Rapid City’s Racing Magpie, are cropping up across the globe, and across the U.S. Racing Magpie is an art gallery with a focus on Native American Art and their artists have a place to work, right at the gallery, in their shared workspace. Racing Magpie seeks to provide a collaborative and vibrant environment for their artists to network and promote cultural art, as well as the opportunity to display their work and even to teach. Their rentals start at $175 monthly and include wifi and exhibition space.
When you share space, you bring your energy into a shared office environment. But you also receive the energy of all those around you. That includes those you co-work with and the clients they bring into the office. But that’s not all you share: the costs of utilities, the amenities the office provides, and the responsibility for that space. Sometimes you just want to roll in, in your yoga pants, and leave the lock-and-key duties to someone else.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of co-working is the flexibility it offers. Don’t need an office every day? Try a Common space for a lower monthly rent, like The OWN (just $82.50 per month plus tax). Teaching a class or seminar? Need a place for a private meeting with clients? Many co-working spaces are rentable by the hour. Many co-working organizations will not only offer you space, they’ll also help you promote your event and your business throughout their network and maybe even source the technical equipment (like projectors and screens, extra chairs, even coffee for guests) to help your event or meeting be successful.
As we continue to rethink what our professional lives will be, we’ll also examine where we can be most productive. Traditions, in many professional realms, are being tossed aside for inventive, imaginative and more productive alternatives. Even in South Dakota, one of the smallest states in terms of population, we’re seeing the value of sharing space and each year brings new co-working options throughout our region.