Small Business Coworking and the Benefits of Shared Space

by Rebecca Lake | November 01, 2018

Innovative, fresh ideas can help drive a thriving business — from what you sell to how you work.

The business trend of coworking demonstrates the value of reconsidering where — and how — you set up shop.

The coworking model, which eschews the traditional cubicle format in favor of more open, shared workspaces, is growing. According to Deskmag's 2018 Global Coworking Forecast, approximately 1.7 million people are expected to adopt coworking by the end of 2018.

"Technology has made work-from-anywhere teams a reality, and coworking spaces have capitalized on that cultural shift," says Eng Tan, CEO and co-founder of customer service outsourcing platform Simplr. Tan's startup operates from a coworking space in San Francisco.

Understanding the rewards (and potential challenges) of coworking can help you determine if it's right for your company.

Three benefits of coworking

1. Coworking promotes collaboration

Breaking up the cubicle and corner office layout to make way for an open flow plan with shared desks and communal rooms is a defining feature of coworking offices. Jessica McCune, a marketing specialist for Kansas City-based digital marketing agency Sellozo, said it has transformed how her company operates.

She and her colleagues work together in one large room with open seating areas where employees can gather together to trade ideas. McCune says sharing workspace "promotes teamwork, fosters quick and open communication, and allows for insights across departments into what everyone is working on. It also creates an atmosphere where workers can provide input to help solve problems when conversations are happening, and fosters a more cohesive and collaborative atmosphere."

Two women and a man sit at a table smiling and talking. they are in a shared coworking space with 2 other people in the background.

2. Sharing work space offers flexibility

Joe Song, founder of Atlanta-based party planning service Kidian, opted for a shared workspace for his startup because "we needed a place that would allow us to quickly and easily set up an office without a long-term lease commitment."

McCune agrees that it's ideal for a new business or small scale company. "I'd highly recommend small businesses and startups consider coworking spaces when looking to establish an office," she adds.

Unlike traditional office space, which may require a multi-year lease, coworking spaces often allow for month-to-month rentals. That makes them ideal for startups, or for established companies trying out coworking in the short term.

3. Coworking can offer unique perks

The perks offered by his coworking space sweetened the deal even further for Song. Everything his company needed to get started — including desks, chairs, Wi-Fi, printing, and cleaning services — was already on site.

Coworking spaces can also come with a laundry list of extras, such as coffee, snack and juice bars; communal kitchen areas; libraries; specialty equipment (think 3-D printers or a private studio for recording podcasts); and outdoor areas, including rooftop or backyard gardens. Plus, shared workspaces sometimes offer perks that help maintain work-life balance, such as meditation rooms, on-site yoga classes, nap rooms, on-site child care, swimming pools, rock climbing walls and more.

Those are the kinds of amenities you typically only see offered by larger companies with extensive campuses, but by pooling resources, coworking allows employees to extend big business perks on a small business budget.

Coworking allows employees to extend big business perks on a small business budget.
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Coworking’s networking value

Relationships — whether they're with mentors, industry influencers or other business owners — can shape long-term success. Shared workspaces are fertile ground for making a wide range of professional connections.

In addition to flexibility, the potential networking opportunities are what drew Song to coworking. The coworking building he uses is home to hundreds of other businesses, ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies. He's been able to broaden his professional circle and his knowledge base by engaging his fellow coworkers on a regular basis.

"When I have a complex challenge, the environment makes it very easy for me to pop in to see my friend at the company down the hall," Song says. "I've been able to 'borrow' time from several people to help develop a marketing strategy, sales tactics, and design strategies."

Sharing space facilitates sharing information and it goes both ways. "Not only am I receiving help, but I'm also giving help," Song says.

His coworking space makes that even easier by offering its own social network that members can use to contact one another privately and post about challenges or services they need help with publicly. The diversity of companies in the space inspires interesting discussions, fueled by a variety of perspectives.

Coworking challenges

The move from a dedicated to a shared space can have its challenges, too.

McCune says crowding is sometimes an issue because while there is open seating, there are only so many seats available. There are private meeting rooms in her coworking space, but they're first-come, first-serve, which can be inconvenient. And shared common areas sometimes get taken over by video shoots from other companies, which makes it harder for employees to navigate the halls.

Smart scheduling and adopting a good neighbor policy are essential in those situations. McCune's company also uses common areas for video shoots, but there are mindful of not monopolizing those areas and privileges.

In Tan's case, security is the biggest concern. "Our company handles private customer data, so we have to take extra precautions to ensure that our laptops and phones meet the internet security requirements," he says.

You can ease security concerns by verifying that a coworking space has a password-protected Wi-Fi network and testing out your software and hardware to make sure there are no issues with compatibility. Take time to develop an office security policy that covers things like password use, sharing information, securing laptops, and who has access to your coworking space.

Song says his biggest struggle so far has been the noise factor. In his coworking space, offices are built with glass walls separating each one from the next so sounds tend to carry. That can make client phone calls, not to mention getting along with your neighbors, more challenging.

To cut down on noise, Song outfitted his coworking space with rugs, plants, and insulation to cut down on echoes. He and his employees take advantage of designated call booths to handle phone conversations with minimal distractions. And he makes an effort to keep noise in his space at a reasonable level so it doesn't trickle out into the offices next door.

Smart scheduling and adopting a good neighbor policy are essential.
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Is your business ready to cowork?

To decide if coworking is right for your business, consider the big picture.

Start with the cost. Weigh the various factors — relocation fees, amenities, space needs — to see how much money you might be able to save with coworking.

Next, talk to your employees about sharing space. Be prepared to answer any questions they might have and consider doing a test run. There are coworking spaces that let you rent out space on an hourly basis, which is an affordable way to let your staff try it on for size.

Finally, think about the tools and resources you could use to overcome potential challenges. For example, Tan says video conferencing with screen share and project management software has been immensely helpful for accommodating remote team members' schedules and keeping everyone on the team aligned and accountable. Song's company uses cloud-based document storage and group messaging apps to make collaborating easier.

woman with short hair in a green shirt sits at a desk in a shared coworking space

Covering all these bases beforehand can make the transition to coworking a smooth one for you and your employees. McCune, Song and Tan all agree that coworking has been an overwhelmingly positive choice for their businesses. Perhaps it could be for yours as well.

Rebecca Lake

has been pursuing her own definition of financial wellness since 2014. Along the way, she's paid off debt and become a super saver. Her work has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, and Fox Business.