A few of us in Waterloo are planning to launch a new co-working space, and we've done a lot of the ground work, but I'm looking for any non-obvious tips and suggestions from veterans. If you have run, managed, or worked in a co-working space, I'd love to hear your thoughts/feedback.
What worked well? What didn't? What made your space really cool? What decisions made the space less cool?
By the way, if you're new to the co-working idea, or want to start one yourself, here is a great resource: http://socialinnovation.ca/sssi
We don't do co-working exactly, but we have been playing host to several startups in a sort of incubator situation. I think our lessons learned will probably apply to co-working.
My company, Blue Fish, has nice Class A office space in Downtown Austin. We had some extra space, so we made it available to the startups in Capital Factory's class of 2009. Each company has one or more offices with doors that close for privacy, and they share common areas such as break rooms and conference rooms. All of the companies put multiple people into their office (sometimes 4 or 5 people in an office). Blue Fish provided office furniture and internet access, and the startups provided their own laptops.
Things that work well:
Things that could be improved:
My experience comes from working in open-plan offices on and off over the years.
Are there going to be programmers in the co-working space? You may not agree, but my experience is that noise is Enemy No 1 for programmers. The kind of deeply immersed, memory-intensive work that programmers do simply gets done faster in a silent environment.
I'm re-reading Kent Beck's "Extreme Programming Explained" (1st edition, best) right now, and I'm reminded how they got open plan offices to work very well indeed for programmers. Reading between the lines of that book, my takeaways on why this worked for them are:
The only tips that I have is looking at the above, and maybe issuing everyone a good noise-canceling headphone. But doing so kind of defeats the purpose...
(*)(there are a few user representatives etc present too, but that doesn't seem to change anything.)
Over the past 10 years I have taken space in 3 distinctly different shared office spaces. Interestingly enough, while the "coolness" factor might have increased with each move, the collaborative/entrepreneurial culture has gone in the opposite direction.
Space 1 - A mix of independent movie makers, software developers and 3D animators. Space had a lot of windows, but had old couches, carpets and felt like a garage sale could break out any minute. That said, the culture was extremely collaborative and had an almost tangible entreprenerial passion in the air.
Space 2- A mix of an advertising agency, law firm, temp-agency and a technology company (me). The space was a very "cool" SOHO NY loft type space with an Orange Crush theme. While clients were impressed when they visited me, the amount of interaction/collaboration between the companies sharing the space was minimal aside from some legal guidance.
Space 3- A mix of a world class architectural firm and a technology company (me). The space is worthy of design awards and yet there seems is almost no collaboration/passion...at least from an entrepreneurial standpoint.
While I understand there are differences between a coworking space and a traditional shared space, the lesson I have learned is that it's the culture and not the "coolness" of the office that makes it feel right or not.
In addition to my company's main goal of facilitating the interaction between individuals/companies burdened with unused (spare) office space and small businesses/entrepreneurs looking to find the "perfect office" space at the right price, we are also committed to helping promote coworking space.
To keep abreast of the coworking trend, I spend a lot of time reading the various threads on the Coworking Google Group (great information there). The theme I have noticed is that the coworking spaces that have the strongest culture tend to be the most outspoken on the thread, the most successful and perhaps the best models to follow.
Depending on the layout of your space and how much privacy you can offer, perhaps its a good idea to clearly define the culture you are trying to create and the types of companies that would fit into this culture. Doing so might make for a much more productive/collaborative environment, which in turn will lead to a more successful coworking environment than simply having the "coolest" office space in town.
I think the following three areas are important:
Meeting area - This should be a place that people can discuss certain things in private or have multiple people discussing without interfering or being interfered with by other staff. This should ideally be enclosed and away from prying eyes. There will always be times when something private needs to be discussed: contract extensions, performance reviews etc. Ideally this will be close to the entrance of your space so that any meetings with outsiders can be done without them having to walk through your operation.
Break out area - I worked in an open plan office before and the worst thing was trying to play foosball when others were trying to take phone calls. There are times e.g. Friday afternoons where some down time is necessary, but others may still be finishing up what they are working on. By having a designated "noise" area then people can enjoy themselves without disturbing others. Couches are essential. You could also place restrictions on when this room / area can be used e.g. after 4pm or only on Friday afternoons.
Work space - Work space should be marked out as work space so that those going through are mindful of what's going on. This will encourage your team to make use of the meeting area rather than discussing things at length around everyone else or yelling across the room.
Some things that I think work:
So many great comments above. My two cents: ADD BEAN BAG CHAIRS and yoga/balance balls!
For reference, watch this episode of Chuck: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Versus_the_Dream_Job