By Sean O’Steen
As a web worker for more than ten years and as an independent software developer for the past six, I’ve worked in a wide variety of environments. Cubicle prairies, home offices, rented desks, cafes, libraries and even my car; you name it, I’ve tried it. In the last year I began lurking in some of the coworking community forums to see what this movement was all about. The idea of a group of independent peers and a culture of sharing ideas was very appealing, so I debated whether it would be a good fit for me and my work habits.
Initially the two closest facilities were over an hour away (on a good day) and I couldn’t justify commuting that far on a regular basis. I decided to keep my quiet little office that I was renting from a client even though I was feeling increasingly stir crazy from having isolated myself, perhaps too much, in the name of productivity.
Then two months ago I responded to a call for anchor tenants in a newly forming coworking space in Berkeley, California. The facility is about 18 miles from my home, close to our regional train system, and nearly centered within my sphere of clients. So, I decided to give it a go. We opened the doors to Berkeley Coworking a little over a month ago, and so far, the response is quite promising!
Currently five out of the eight anchor positions (aka the folks who pay for a permanent desk and have a key) are filled at this time. Even at capacity, the space should still feel roomy. There’s usually two to four people in the office each week day, and one or two of us in on the weekends. The anchor desks share about 1,100 sq. ft. upstairs and we have another 1,100 sq. ft. downstairs for special events and guests. We welcome drop-in coworkers, who can use the open tables, whiteboards, WiFi and power outlets any time one of the anchors are in the office.
Granted, I’m only a month into this experience, but so far I am very happy with my decision to try coworking. The other anchor tenants at at our office and the guests who have visited so far are, by and large, brilliant people, who are kind, thoughtful, and thought provoking. I’ve already picked up some networking contacts that may turn into business opportunity in the coming months. And I feel my productivity has increased due to new-found energy and eagerness to participate.
At night, I’m still working out of my home office after I get the kids to bed, and occasionally I still use the library or a cafe to get small chunks of work done. However most days, when I’m not at a client site, I will be coworking in my new community.
If you are looking to try coworking, I would strongly recommend a “try before you buy” approach. Most of the coworking spaces will have a very open guest policy. You are usually welcome to use their facilities at little or no cost, and should you become an active member in the community you will then be expected to contribute financially. Some of the more commercial ventures will certainly have a day pass option.
Make sure you are a good fit with the community. Although most coworking spaces will be open to new participants and new perspectives, there will be some commonalities amongst the members. At Berkeley Coworking, most of us are related to software and game development. At other locations graphic design or film making may be the common thread. Just make sure your contribution to the community is compatible with the other members.
Above all, be ready to contribute to the community! If you just want to get some work done, go to the library or to Starbucks. If you want to work, and share, and occasionally clean the bathrooms, then coworking may be for you.
Photos from Flickr images tagged BerkeleyCoworking.
Sean O’Steen is the principal web developer and IT Consultant at Tech Monkey Design. He specializes in content management systems based on .NET and LAMP technologies. When he is not knee deep in code, he can be found at home in Pleasant Hill, California playing with his wife and two little monkeys. Read his blog here.