In February, a study released by Gallup showed that 43 percent of workers in America are now remote, leaving behind a traditional 9-to-5 office job model. More than half of American employees are now citing flexibility as one of the key factors in taking a job, and 37 percent of those surveyed said they’d jump at the chance to work from where they wished.
It’s no question, then, that the winds of the workforce are blowing in new directions, likely driven by a number of factors: the increasingly digital age, economic issues and lifestyle aspirations for flexibility and freedom. But what happens when someone takes the leap towards working remotely or freelancing? Often, working from home or working out of a coffee shop may seem to be the only solution to the conundrum of a seemingly adrift worker with no real ties.
But there’s a third option, one that is rapidly gaining popularity and proving to have several benefits: Joining a coworking space.
The History & Philosophy of Coworkng
So what exactly is “coworking,” and where did the concept come from? As Craig Baute—who is the founder of the Creative Density Coworking in Denver and sits on the board of Coworks, a national coworking association—explained it, a web developer in San Francisco named Brad Neuberg was working from home in 2005. His roommate would always come home telling stories about all the great discussions and interactions he’d had with people.
“Brad kind of missed that interaction,” said Baute. “And he kind of said, ‘Well, why the heck don’t I get that interaction?’ ”
Around the same time in New York City, a movement called Jelly was taking off with similar motivations. Amit Gupta and Luke Crawford, roommates who worked from home, missed community—but not the infamous office politics that abound in corporate life. So they began inviting people to work together out of their home one day a week, and more people began forming their own work groups in New York City.
Neuberg coined the term “coworking” and opened what is now deemed to be the first official coworking concept in San Francisco in 2005.
“They built a space and wrote a philosophy about it: friends coming together to work, to collaborate, to celebrate different occupations,” Baute said.
A new kind of work movement was born—one that many cities began buying into, including Denver.
Baute, originally from Michigan, opened the second coworking space in Denver, Creative Density, in 2011 because he knew the atmosphere in the Mile High City was prime for coworking.
Today, there are around 20 independent coworking spaces in Denver. Several are part of Denver Coworks—which Baute founded—a nonprofit organization that helps raise awareness of the concept of coworking, matches potential members with the right coworking space, and fights for the vision of coworking within an increasingly commercialized market.
“Denver is one of the most competitive spaces, certainly in the top three, for coworking in the United States…for the number of coworking available on a per capita bases,” described Baute. “So Denver is one of the significant hubs.”
Trickling down to Colorado Springs
Southern Colorado has been feeling the collective inspiration, too. The Enclave—the first coworking space to open in Colorado Springs—was born out a group of 13 individuals who began meeting together to work in coffee shops in 2010.
“We were just hanging out in the morning and working together,” said Ryan Cross. “It was huge. It had much more response than we ever thought.” In the summer of 2011, Cross made it official, purchasing their first space with eight official members for the inception of The Enclave.
Not long after, Lisa Tessarowicz and Hannah Parsons—women who both knew too many people sick of working out of coffee shops—saw a need and founded Epicentral Coworking in 2012. “It was just something we wanted to do for the community,” said Tessarowicz of their business jump into an unknown market.
It’s paid off. Epicentral is a bustling hub of excitement in downtown Colorado Springs, providing more than 130 members with unlimited access to a bright, welcoming space.
One thing lead to another, and soon there were several other spaces beginning to pop up—including Engine Co-Working inside Catalyst Campus, a facility that mentors small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups; The Machine Shop, which was born out of several high-quality graphic design and architectural firms banding together to create an affordable workspace; and Welcome Fellow—one of the newest kids on the block (and youngest: the founders are in their upper 20s and early 30s) to found a coworking space in 2016 that’s cool, hip and highly geared towards cultural movers and shakers.
The Rising Appeal of Coworking
But what’s so bad about working out of a coffee shop? It’s free, right? For the independent worker, it’s not really, Cross of Enclave explained.
“You’re still paying for coffee throughout the day—unless you’re going to be That Guy,” he said. “Nobody wants that. That’s a place that sells coffee; it’s not a place that provides you a seat to work.”
But there’s always home, then.
“There’s question of: Oh, you may think you work well from home, but then do you home well from work?” said Tessarowicz of Epicentral. “You have to be thinking through those boundaries. I am a person who is very easily distracted. I’d much sooner alphabetize my bookshelf then actually get work done. So I can’t work from home.”
Renting an actual office becomes risky and unattainable for individuals or small businesses. “If you look at just the people that have startups or just freelancers, they’re definitely not about to go rent a big office,” said Adam Morley, co-founder of Welcome Fellow and founder of the retail business Café Motique. “Number one, they don’t need it. Number two, they can’t afford it.”
One selling point for coworking, then, becomes the fact that you share a workspace with minimal expense. Most coworking spaces offer monthly, weekly, or daily packages, with people using the space as little or as much as they want. Teams or individuals come and go on a whim, and they have the flexibility to do so.
But the larger and more important appeal isn’t just saving money. It’s community.
The Invaluable Community of Coworking
The philosophy behind coworking has always been about community and collaboration. The majority of coworking spaces try very hard to create a sense of both professional networking and friendship within each space. Businesses and individuals across industries who may never have met before are suddenly thrown into each other’s paths.
Frank Frey and Kayla Battles work at Epicentral as Space Captains (yes, that’s a real title), and their sole job is to help facilitate intentional community, help members feel welcome within the space, and offer technical and administrative assistance. “We provide the right kind of distraction,” Frey described, and Battles added that coworking is all about “social currency.” They are both constantly on the lookout for how to best connect members.
The results can be amazingly rewarding. At Epicentral, Springs Magazine was born out of a connection between the editor, Jeremy Jones, and the publisher, John Sawyer.
“It’s a great place to have ideas and make connections,” Jones said. “Even as editor of the Springs, it’s been a great place for us to continue to have an office, because it’s a great place to have synergy and very easily hear what other people are doing.”
Coworking spaces can also add vital value to small businesses with smaller teams or even branches of a larger corporation that want to save money and tap into local networks. Kelly Pomis, Deputy Executive Director of Teach For America, a national nonprofit that works to equalize education for all children, helped convince the large nonprofit to move their regional office to Epicentral. When their lease of a office space was up, Pomis said that they began looking for alternative options rather than renting out another huge space that wasn’t even being used effectively.
“We realized that we can save $15,000 saving space,” she said. “It just made sense….We’re a national organization that’s 25 years old. But now, more and more of our sister and brother regions are like, ‘Could this make sense?’ We do save a lot of money, and it’s invaluable for those networks. Colorado Springs has helped pave the way for a national organization to do this. Do we have to work in the isolation of our own office? Technically, no.”
The Machine Shop—a non-traditional coworking space that only rents out a few desks but offers several top-notch design studios like Co-Pilot Creative, Fixer Creative, Design Rangers, and Echo Architecture a space to share and collaborate in—has seen exponential growth in living together as design firms in one space, according to Valerie Lloyd, the co-owner and manager.“We’re people who want to affect the city well with good design,” she said. “Design then creates a better environment that creates a competitive spirit a little bit that just raises the bar continually….[Coworking] really does allow small businesses to have a lot more than they would just doing it on their own. Stuff you couldn’t just afford.”
In the future, coworking will continue to grow, following the whims of the rapidly changing workforce.
Kayla Battles compares it to gym memberships, where people will someday ask “So where do you work from?” in a similar way that people ask “Where do you work out?” The diversity of those that find coworking beneficial range in age, industry, and profession. But they all have one theme in common: they want to find friends and connections in a collaborative environment.
A Coworking Space in Southern Colorado’s manufacturing hub?
Where could coworking pop up next?
Craig Baute from Denver sincerely hopes that it’s in Pueblo.
“Pueblo is ripe for a coworking space,” he said. “It’s not only an economic opportunity for the city, but with downtown revitalization and wanting to keep young people there, Pueblo is Ground Zero to where coworking could really change things—to keep people there, keep small businesses there, just let people know that there’s other opportunities just by exposing people to the idea of coworking.”
Batue said that he’s been trying to find partners for Pueblo, but that the challenge is always introducing the first coworking space into a new place.
While getting the word out about coworking is often the hardest challenge, according to Adam Morley from Welcome Fellow, coworking can be an amazing moment for those who learn about it.
“If you do get people in here, it can change their life, and those are the moments I live for, honestly,” he said. “When you get those people who are wandering before, but then they come in and realize, this is what I want!”