Could Northfield use a co-working site?

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune about the rising trend of “co-working” space (shared space where the self-employed or telecommuting employee can plug in to work) got me thinking again about the benefits of such a space for Northfield. Is there a market?

The local coffeehouses are serving this function now, but I believe there may be an additional need for a place more conducive to work which still provides the social benefits. Shared work sites across the country have similar features – generally an open room with desks, some meeting rooms, maybe a kitchen; most are in the $150-300/month range.

From the Sept. 8 article:

…co-workers have included computer programmers and Web site developers, road-warrior salesmen who need a quiet place to make sales calls, a graduate student writing his doctoral dissertation and even a woman who runs a dog-walking business.

That’s a typically broad cross section of the people who use coworking sites, part of what author Daniel Pink calls “Free Agent Nation,” the independent contractors and freelance workers who can work anywhere as long as they can plug in a laptop, use their cell phones and hook up to the Internet.

As an indication of how big that nation is becoming, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of single-person businesses increased from 16.5 million in 2000 to 20.4 million in 2005.

For more details on this trend, see coworking.info.

Let’s pretend that we had an appropriately configured space here in Northfield. Are there those who would sign up at $150/month? Is there even a need for such a space? I think yes, knowing a large number of self-employed and entrepreneurial types who don’t have dedicated office space.

15 thoughts on “Could Northfield use a co-working site?”

  1. The expanded library could include a small space that could be used by business people during the day and volunteer groups and students during the evening for meetings, small projects, etc.
    If there were demand, the small office space behind Domino’s would be a great location for an incubator that would be close to downtown restaurants and other services. Perhaps a nonprofit has some room available, or maybe the Historical Society could lease the space next door to it and collect the fees for an incubator space, then have it available part of the time for its own activities.
    There are lots of possibilities.

  2. This is an interesting idea and a year ago, I would have jumped at it, but I’m not sure very many others would. (As a freelancer for 20 years, I have worked at home, at an office downtown, at home again, in coffee shops, and back at an office downtown.) Most freelancers watch expenses really closely and aren’t inclined to take on an additional expense without some clear bottom-line benefit. I’m not sure how compelling the benefits of co-officing–meeting space, networking, company–would be.

  3. I did a lot of research on creating one of these, or in fact, a chain of them. The concept is great, much like that of a club at the airport. But, in the end, with insurance, facilities, staffing, etc, the economic return just isn’t there.

    There was an article that someone sent to me about a few of these operations in either the Bay Area or NYC. They all reported that the owners were not making any money from the venture. They did, though, report satisfaction that it reduced their overall rent.

    Regus does a great job of offering shared Class A space in really nice buildings. The coffee shops are a great place for sole proprietors to see real people outside of their home or small offices. It sure seems that there is a market in between these, but the “membership fees” need to be higher, I believe, than can be justified here in Northfield…if you want a nice place in which to co-work.

    Anyone who wants to collaborate to make it work here (bring your ideas!) please let me know. I’m happy to re-do the math.

  4. David: Victor and I have considered this option for our empty space, but have also felt that the “numbers” just don’t work for here/NF. But have to do something soon; that space has been empty far too long.
    I also had a bunch of articles about shared working spaces, and wonder just what WOULD make them attractive for Northfielders.

  5. I thought we went the free wireless direction instead of the “workstation” route.

    Interestingly or not, this year I’ve been to the “Internet Capital of Germany” (Karlsruhe) and been glad to find a “workstation” store. The take was a little different– I paid by the hour. But that is how the attendant described the situation: I could office there on a regular basis.

  6. I too have been wondering if Northfield could support a co-working space. As for the economics, for those of you who have done the numbers, how many co-workers would a place in Nfld need to be profitable? am also wondering if, in addition to freelancers, there might not be enough telecommuters here that would be interested in participating? Or if the availability of a great co-working space might encourage more telecommuting?

    I have more questions than answers. But I think it would be great to explore this. I would seriously consider renting a co-working space (I currently work from home for a company in CA.) If anyone forms some sort of exploratory committee, sign me up!

  7. Dustin, do you have a laptop w/wireless capability? If you have a laptop w/out wireless, you can buy a PCMCIA card and etc. and then head downtown to enjoy free wireless… or maybe you like a quiet place and can’t find it… or why would you enjoy a co-working site?

    Good idea, Bright, except that’s sooo far south… almost Dundas, really.

  8. Dustin, or anyone who wants to discuss this further, please email me at david.koenig@charter.net.

    I’ll have to dust-off the spreadsheets, and of course, it depends on the rent of the space and the amenities. Here is roughly what we were looking at:

    $200 per month membership (includes phone with unlimited long distance in US/Canada, high speed internet and some very basic office equipment like printer, etc)

    There would be a $2,500 initiation fee that you may recover (or gain on) if you sell your membership to another person.

    Under such a model in Northfield, you need about 20 people to sign-up to make it work.

    Please share your reactions on this cost…I welcome the feedback.

  9. From the Trib article, this is closest to what I was thinking:

    “Charges vary. At Soundview Coworking, users pay a monthly fee of $150. But Park has a two-tier plan at his Chicago site. For $150 a month, you get to use a desk but have to be willing to float from desk to desk, based on availability. A dedicated desk costs $285 a month.”

    The real advantages are in building the network among successful entrepreneurs and people who telecommute or work in town one or two days per week.

    If there are 20 people in Northfield who would sign-up, I’m happy to move forward on this. I’ve got the work all done to kick-off quickly.

  10. This is a tough call, and made more difficult because of the RNC.

    6 months ago, I would have been all over this. Now… Its a nice idea, but…

    Here is the deal. I have a company provided laptop, with both wireless or a cellular card to access bandwidth. Once connected, We VPN into the office.

    Our company also uses SoftPhone technology, so I can do Voice over IP phone from my laptop. My phone rings at my laptop when a call on the company line comes in, and I can call out just like I am at my desk.

    So, having a place to sit is the only factor. I can do meetings with the webcam and live meeting. I can basically work from anywhere, as long as it is quiet.

    For $200 a month, I would expect a copier, a conference room, a color printer, and other ammenities, and it would have to have some security for my equipment (while I am at lunch, etc.), and close access to coffee.

    I love the idea, because it would get vehicles off the road, but currently, my company would only authorize up to 2 days per week of telecommuting.

    Also, our IS Security division would have a fit… as how could you guarantee the security of the network in the co-location space.

    You would have to have high bandwidth, facilities, support, insurance, etc. etc, not to mention labor.

    20 people, * $200 a month is only $4000 per month. I would be REALLY curious to see how you would make that fly on that little income per month.

    Just the labor cost of one person, at $8 an hour for 160 hours per month is $1280. You add power, insurance, and bandwidth… that $4K is gone real quick per month, and you would be chewing into that 50K startup. (you probably wouldn’t get someone very technical for $8/ hr)

    Also, I don’t think you could limit yourself to an 8 hour day. You would have to look at probably a 6 AM to 6 PM model… increasing the labor costs.

    The only way this would work is if it was an offshoot of an existing tech business, or some other business to supplement the cash flow. Perhaps a floor above BadBrain downtown?

  11. Our downtown tax burden makes this a bit unworkable for affordability; tax portion alone on a 2000sq.ft space is $550-650.00 a month now, and the expectation is for it to go up.

    It’s hard to make the numbers work…

Leave a Reply