What is Coworking? Everything You Need to Know

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Coworking is a trendy word these days – maybe you’ve heard it on the news, or you’ve seen a few spaces pop up in your town. But what is coworking?

What actually happens at a coworking space? Is coworking really the way of the future… or is it just a hip rebranding of regular commercial office space?

Here is our complete guide to coworking: what it is, who coworks, a brief history of coworking, and the benefits associated with it. We’ll talk statistics, amenities, cost, and how to know if coworking is right for you.

Let’s dive in:

professionals working together

— What is coworking?

Dictionary.com defines coworking as “an arrangement by which freelancers or employees working for various companies share an office or other workspace.

So if you work in a traditional office environment where everyone in your workspace works for the same company… that’s not coworking.

But if you work in an environment where the person working next to you is a full-time Account Manager at an unrelated company, and a freelancer in the same workspace is working on their own web design projects, and you’re all working independently while sharing the same space… you are coworking!

Coworking spaces strive to create an office experience for people who would not otherwise have an office such as freelancers, entrepreneurs, remote workers, and anyone who can work from home.

Some coworking spaces focus on renting private office space that share common areas with other offices, and other spaces are set up as an open-office environment suited for individuals and small teams. People can pay for a membership to work from a shared workspace which often includes internet, coffee, desks, and other amenities.

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— How did coworking start?

Coworking is a recent phenomenon which was aided by the proliferation of the internet and the associated capability for people to work remotely.

Deskmag, a popular online magazine about coworking, published this history of coworking which suggests that the first official spaces opened for business in 2005.

However, the seeds had been planted between 1995 and 1999 with the opening of several hackerspaces and “work clubs” devoted to bringing people together and instilling a sense of community while working.

One of the first early coworking spaces (although the term “coworking” wasn’t used yet) was called 116 West Houston in New York City. Its founder, John McGann, discussed the community and productivity aspects of the space in this article from 2004:

“People are here to work. If you’re around 20 other people who are working, there’s a buzz, an energy that inspires you,” McGann says. “If you put up walls, there’s no point. Why are people in the same space?” (Source: NetworkWorld)

meld coworking in austin

After a few similar spaces opened in 2005 and 2006, the public familiarity with coworking started to grow. In 2007 the word “coworking” got its own Wikipedia page and started to trend on Google, and the rest is history!


— How does coworking work?

You walk into a coworking space (if it’s your first time, I highly recommend scheduling a tour in advance so they know that you’re coming). You pay for a recurring membership or “day pass” rate to work in the space for the day. You plug in your laptop and pour yourself some coffee.

And you work productively, shocked at the sheer amount of work you accomplish when you’re liberated from the distractions of home.

Throughout the day, you might chitchat and network with other people in the common areas – people who do not work for your company and could change your life with an idea, a solution, or a referral. You might attend a social gathering held at the space.

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Celebrating MELD’s 1st birthday with members and friends

But even if you prefer to keep to yourself, just being in the presence of others while working can help you feel more energized and less alone. It’s that simple.

Each coworking space has a unique focus, so certain spaces will fit your needs and interests better than others. Here are the most popular amenities that you can typically find in a coworking space:

Open Coworking / Hot Desks

Coworking spaces often have a plethora of open seats, also known as “hot desks”: unassigned seating where you can plug in your computer, connect to the internet, and get to work.

Because these desks aren’t assigned to specific individuals, you can work from a different spot every time you visit your space. Open coworking is perfect for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers who don’t require a personalized workstation.

If you need to lug your bulky desktop computer into your coworking space every day, this hot desk model may not be the best option for you – you would benefit from reserving a dedicated desk instead.

freelancer coworking

Dedicated Desks

When you have a dedicated desk at a coworking space, that desk is completely yours. You can leave your belongings there, and you can rely on it to always be available (it is reserved solely for you – no hot seat coworkers can use it).

Dedicated desks are ideal for people who want the stability and consistency of knowing they always have a productive place to work. If you work remotely for a company five days a week, or you operate your own business that doesn’t need its own private office yet, a dedicated desk could be an ideal option for you.

Private Offices

If you’re a startup, small business, or a growing company looking for a space, consider renting a private office from a coworking space.

When you rent an office in a coworking space, you have access to a built-in community of contacts that can become your future friends, clients, and referral partners. Shared amenities such as kitchens and common areas allow your team to mingle with other professionals.

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Private office members at MELD share a kitchen and other amenities with our other coworking members which increases social interactions and collaboration.

Many private office rates at coworking spaces include conference room hours, coffee, printing, internet, utilities and other amenities, so be sure to ask what is included within your rental rate. Even if the initial cost looks higher than the traditional “dollar-per-square-foot” real estate terminology, you will likely end up saving money and administrative time, as well as avoiding seasonal price fluctuations, when you take the included amenities into account.

Meeting Rooms

Working from home is all fun and games… until it’s time to meet with a client in-person.

Rather than crossing your fingers and hoping to find a few seats together at a noisy coffeeshop, you can book a private meeting room at your local coworking space to give your interaction an added sense of professionalism.

Monthly coworking memberships typically include a fixed number of meeting room credits that you can use for private meetings. Non-members can often reserve meeting rooms at coworking spaces by paying an hourly rate, so be sure to check the website of your preferred space to understand their policies and pricing.

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Event Space

Coworking spaces typically have event areas that you can rent by the hour – even if you’re not a member.

Holding meetups and events at your local coworking space is a great way to get acquainted with the coworking world and grow your local network. Additionally, you can browse the event calendars of your local spaces to see if there are any interesting networking events coming up that are open to the public.

You can also use platforms like Peerspace to find unique local spaces to host your event, as many coworking spaces use these platforms as avenues to share their spaces.

Networking

People benefit from being part of a community—from learning, working, and growing alongside other humans. This premise is the foundation of coworking. To align with this mission, coworking spaces offer plenty of educational, social, and networking events to facilitate in-person interactions.

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An after-hours educational event in our workspace.

In Austin, popular local conferences like Austin Startup Week hold many of their sessions at coworking spaces around the city. Sometimes the events at coworking spaces are exclusive to members, so be sure to check a space’s events calendar for details.

Phone Booths

Let’s say you need to chat with a client, or give a presentation the most important webinar of your career, or answer an urgent call from your cat-sitter… but you don’t want to disturb the other people working in your space.

No worries! You can step into a private phone booth, available at the vast majority of coworking spaces, to take phone calls and snag a little privacy. Every space has a different policy around where to take phone calls, so it’s important to clarify this at the beginning of your coworking experience.

A peek inside one of our private phone booths at MELD Coworking

24/7 Access

If you’re a night owl, work odd hours, or collaborate with teams in different time zones – coworking spaces can work for you.

Coworking spaces tend to be open to the public during regular business hours, but many offer 24/7 access to certain membership levels. If after-hours access is important to you, be sure to ask about it before committing to a membership.

Travel Network

Do you work while you travel? On your next trip, consider skipping the loud coffee shops and spotty hotel internet in favor of working at a new coworking space instead. You never know what connections (and local recommendations!) may come from your decision.

Some coworking spaces provide members with travel perks. For example, MELD Coworking is part of the Proximity Space network which means that our members can travel to other spaces in the network three times per month at no charge.

If you’re a digital nomad who is constantly on the go, you can also use services like Deskpass to work from a variety of coworking spaces in select cities.

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Miscellaneous

Nearly all coworking spaces provide office conveniences like coffee, but if you’re looking for something more specific and unique, there are plenty of spaces that serve niche markets.

Want to work in a women-focused environment? See if The Wing has a location in your city. Want to bring your dog to work? Find a dog-friendly coworking space, or even a space that includes daycare for your dog. Want to record a podcast or shoot photos? Some spaces have created designated podcasting and photography rooms to meet your creative needs. Want to work from a space that offers childcare? You may be able to find one near you.


— What are the benefits of coworking?

Members of coworking spaces tout these major benefits of coworking:

  • Reduced loneliness.

Human interaction is important, and when you’re working from home alone every day you don’t get much of it. Lunchtime chit-chat at a coworking space goes a long way to help people feel more connected and less alone.

  • Increased structure & motivation.

When coworking members force themselves to leave the house and stick to a routine, they often find that their motivation increases.

  • Higher productivity.

Our homes are filled with distractions, while coworking spaces are designed to reduce distractions. When everyone in a coworking space is working productively, it inspires members to stay focused and do the same.

  • Cross-pollination of ideas and networks.

Because the people around you at a coworking space work for different companies (and often different industries), members can share ideas, grow their networks, and even gain new business referrals from a range of new friends and professional contacts whom they would not have met in a traditional office environment.

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These findings are not just anecdotal – there has been research devoted to studying the effects of coworking, and we expect an increase in this type of research as the industry grows.

A 2018 research study by Emergent Research surveyed coworking space members and found that:

  • 89% of members feel happier since joining a coworking space
  • 87% meet with other members for social reasons
  • 84% feel that working in a coworking space has improved their work engagement and motivation
  • 83% feel less lonely since joining a coworking space
  • 82% report that coworking has expanded their professional networks

— What are the demographics of people who cowork?

The 2018 Global Coworking Survey shed some light on the numbers behind who uses coworking spaces. (You can dive into the details of the report here)

According to the survey, only 43% of coworking members are under the age of 30, and the average age of a coworking member is 36 years old. Interestingly, the data suggests that members of coworking spaces span a variety of professional fields:

  • 41% of coworking members are freelancers
  • 36% of members are remote employees
  • 16% of members are employers
  • 7% of members fall into another category (for example, students)
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Working productively together at MELD

These numbers demonstrate that coworking spaces are hubs where individuals of different backgrounds and industries can network and share ideas.

Despite being a newer industry, coworking space operators and community managers have plentiful opportunities to connect and share best practices about running and growing their spaces. Conferences such as the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) create in-person environments of education and networking for the industry, and professional communities such as Women Who Cowork offer support to female founders of coworking spaces.


— What are the trends and expectations for coworking?

Luckily for the coworking world, there is ample evidence that telecommuting and remote work are here to stay. According to FlexJobs, 53% of professionals worked remotely for at least half the week in 2018.

The outlook for freelancing is also rosy. In the 2018 “Freelancing in America” survey, commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, researchers found that the number of freelancers in America grew by 3.7 million people between 2014 and 2018:

Source:
https://s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/adquiro-content-prod/documents/FIA_full-infographic.pdf

(You can explore the full results of the study here)

The 2017 Freelancing in America study offers the prediction that freelance workers will make up the majority of the US workforce by 2027.

Some local governments are even embracing telecommuting as a solution to traffic and pollution woes. Austin, Texas set a goal to have 15% of Austin residents working remotely by 2020 in an effort to reduce the number of cars on the road.

With this rise in telecommuting and freelancing, coworking is growing at a rapid rate. According to GCUC, the global number of coworking spaces is expected to grow from 11,100 in 2016 to 24,306 in 2020. The number of individuals who cowork is also growing at an annual rate of 24.2%.

We are also seeing corporations and commercial real estate companies enter the coworking arena, aware that it could be a threat to their traditional business model. Hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and even office supply stores are all experimenting with adding coworking to their services to capture pieces of the growing industry.

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— How do I know if coworking is right for me?

First things first: Do you work from home?

The operating hours of coworking spaces typically align with regular business hours – for example, here at MELD Coworking we’re open to the public between 8 AM and 5 PM.

The vast majority of spaces are designed for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers who work during the day, so if you’re craving a place where you can work on your side hustle every weeknight and weekend, a coworking space may not be the right fit at this time.

That being said, some coworking spaces have special nighttime memberships to fit your after-hours needs, and many spaces offer 24/7 access to paying members. Often times 24/7 access is restricted to certain membership levels for security reasons, so if evening access is important to you, check the policies of an individual space before signing up.

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If you already work from home, answer the following questions honestly about your experience:

  • How productive are you at home? Do you find yourself getting distracted by food, pets, or clutter throughout the day?
  • Do you feel lonely? Would it help your overall well-being to force yourself to leave the house and work alongside other people?
  • Are the boundaries between your work life and home life beginning to blur?
  • When you work outside of your home to get a change of pace, where do you go? What does your experience look like there? Do you have the ability to take phone calls and work undisturbed?
  • Where do you meet clients in-person?

Many remote workers start by working in coffeeshops, and they transition into coworking spaces once they get tired of the background noise (and compulsory purchases every few hours!) that coffeeshops entail.


— I’m excited and ready to cowork! How do I choose a coworking space?

Start by going to Google Maps and make a shortlist of the 4 or 5 coworking spaces that are ideally located for you:

coworking in austin map

“Ideally located” could mean different things depending on your schedule. Many coworkers opt to work from a space near their homes, but think about the flow of your day and if there’s any area of town that would genuinely be most convenient for you.

For example, if you drive 40 minutes to drop off your daughter at preschool every morning, it makes sense to look for a space near the preschool to minimize your additional time in the car.

Once you have a short list of coworking spaces, visit their websites and compare pricing, memberships, and amenities. Check their reviews, ensure they have the features you’re looking for, and identify 1-3 spaces that would suit you best.

Then the fun part: visit the spaces and try them out! Some coworking spaces offer a complimentary trial day, while others require purchasing a day pass. Either way, we encourage you to work in the space and get a sense of the community and experience before signing up for a membership.

While you’re in the space, be sure to test the ergonomics of the workstations. Some coworking spaces offer adjustable chairs and desks to support your posture and comfort while you work, while some unfortunately don’t take ergonomics into account when designing or managing their space.

Yoga ball chairs, standing desks, and comfortable chairs go a long way to create an ergonomic workspace.

Different coworking spaces have different priorities, so be sure the spaces you try offer the types of memberships you would want. For example, if you’re a solopreneur looking for a hot desk, you can skip past the coworking spaces that focus solely on private offices.

During your trial day, ask the community manager any questions you have about the space and the experience. Here are some common questions we receive from potential members:

  • Are memberships month-to-month or do they require a long-term commitment?
  • Does my membership include 24/7 access? If so, how can I access the building after hours?
  • What types of events and activities does your community hold?
  • What is your policy on bringing guests to the space? Does my membership include guest passes or meeting room access?
  • Where should I take phone calls?
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Coworking is more than just a passing trend: it’s the future of work. We hope that as the industry grows and as the idea of coworking becomes more mainstream, you can use this article to better understand the background and benefits of coworking.

And if you’re interested in trying coworking in Austin, sign up for our email list to receive a free trial day at MELD Coworking! We would love to introduce you to our workspace and community to see if MELD is the right fit for you.

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