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Are There Different ‘Modes’ of Coworking Office Space?

NEW YORK–There’s been interesting debate about how to define coworking, with  more corporate outfits like Regus going head-to-head with more community-oriented coworking spaces like New Work City in NYC or Citizen Space in SF. Can there be different modes of coworking and what are the implications the average freelancer or telecommuter? aBetterOffice.com caught up with Genevieve DeGuzman and Andrew Tang, authors of Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits, to ask just that question.

Working in the UnOffice is a collection of stories, advice, and strategies from startups, freelancers, and telecommuters working in coworking spaces and collaborative work environments across the U.S. Genevieve and Andrew also run Night Owls Press, an editorial services and publishing company in San Francisco, Calif. You can get in touch with them on Twitter and Facebook. In the meantime, here’s this qualified duo’s take on why coworking means for freelancers, telecommuters, small businesses and other independent workers:

Regus sparked a debate when it casually claimed that they had spearheaded the coworking model decades ago with their executive office suites and business centers. Community-focused coworking spaces that only became popular as early as 2001 and most prominently in 2005 were a bit miffed of course—or maybe just amused.

The new types of office space today are vastly more conducive to collaboration and the open way of working made so popular by web-workers and creative types than was ever possible in the corporate executive suites. It reminds us a lot of the PC vs. Mac debates, where the staid, PC suit-man bickers with the minimalist cool, t-shirt-and-jeans Mac guy. They’re both computers— but vastly different.

So, what counts as a coworking space? Many would argue, well, certainly not Regus or the older model of cubicle-oriented, ‘executive office suites’ that were built like hermetic enclosures and lacked any open, shared spaces. But that might be a bit unfair. Regus and similar companies espouse a different business model than many of the newer coworking spaces around today, but for many businesses, Regus is just what they need, and we think that’s fine. It shows the market is flexible.

From talking to over 50 coworking members and space owners for Working in the UnOffice, we found is that— surprise!— coworking comes in different flavors.

You have spaces like Affinity Lab in DC that have been going strong since 2001 that house more mature businesses, and then you have spaces like NextSpace that are succeeding at ‘franchising’ themselves, opening multiple locations in California. Astoundingly, there’s Gangplank in Arizona that doesn’t charge a dime to its ‘members’. They work out deals with local government and providers to get building space, electricity/ internet for free; then has its ‘anchor companies’ share the workload of running the day-to-day operations. They are the quintessential community space. Is Gangplank more of a coworking space than other spaces that charge for membership? You can argue both sides.

But we definitely agree that the common denominator that unites the new model of coworking spaces today is the community. How strongly the space cultivates that in its design and programming is what prospective members should look out for when shopping for a space. Semantics aside, let’s keep an open mind about what constitutes a real and authentic coworking space— and watch out for those that want to capitalize on the trend by associating themselves with the movement.

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About the Author

Jennifer LeClaire

Jennifer LeClaire is a veteran business journalist, editor and new media entrepreneur with a strong niche in real estate and technology. She works from a home office on the beach in South Florida. You can reach her through LinkedIn. www.linkedin.com/in/jleclaire

One Response

Luana Anselmo September 10th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Hey Jennifer, that was a great article! Coworking is such a great way to work, i mean, you can have a good office where you can recieve your clients, all those office services like telephone, internet, secretary.. with a price that startups can afford!! I’m saying that because i use open offices for about 2 years and it’s have been really good for my business!

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