What tips do you have for a new co-working space?


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

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asked Dec 22 '09 at 04:54
Joseph Fung
1,542 points

8 Answers


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:

  • Doors that close - There are no cubicles here, and the ability for a team to close their door when they need to concentrate is a big advantage. I learned years ago that if you have a door, you need a window or a side panel that allows a visitor to see what you are doing in your office when you have the door closed. If they can't see you, they will knock and interrupt you. But if they can see that you are heads-down, they will often come back later.
  • Multiple companies sharing space together - All of the startups agree that working in a shared space helps them bounce ideas off of people that are going through the same types of things.
  • 24 hour access - The employees of the startups were in and out at all hours of the day and night. They all have keys and the code for the alarm so that they can come and go as they please.
  • Conference room - Although they don't have very many meetings with outsiders, when they do (investors, customers, etc.), having a dedicated conference room with a projector is a huge help.
  • Cheap rent - The companies pay less than $500 per month for an office with no long-term commitment. Smaller companies and one-man operations sometimes split the cost of a room with another company.
  • Access to extra equipment - Blue Fish had extra laptops, monitors, furniture, and keyboards that we share with the startups. I think they've found that very helpful. We've also let them borrow portable projectors and even our tradeshow booth supplies. These are things that they would never have been able to afford on their own.

Things that could be improved:

  • More conference rooms or phone call rooms - It's hard to take a phone call in an office full of people, and the startups make a lot more phone calls than they ever expected (mostly talking to investors and making sales calls). Someone is always taking calls in the conference room, walking/talking in the hall, taking over the break room, etc. Most of the calls are single person calls, so it would be great to have a collection of little phone booths where a single person can have some privacy on a call.
  • Cheaper parking - We're downtown, so parking is more expensive than we'd like
  • Better internet access - The startups use a LOT more bandwidth than the same number of Blue Fishers do. They have IP phones (we use land lines), and several of the companies are web startups that have bots scraping other sites and other things that use a lot of bandwidth. We have segmented our network to try to contain the issue, but the bottom line is that we need more bandwidth.
answered Dec 22 '09 at 07:19
Michael Trafton
3,141 points
  • I'm going to wait 1 year, then take everything you've written on this site, make a book about how to run a company, and make millions of $. :-) Seriously, great answers all the time. – Jason 14 years ago
  • For an incubator space, I agree with everything you've said. The quirk, though, is that we're specifially looking to create a more open, creative environment (which is what's more commonly associated with coworking spaces). So our space will have more common area, and likely few (if any) private rooms. Good point on the parking too - that's one we're struggling with as well! – Joseph Fung 14 years ago
  • @Michael Trafton: Fantastic example of giving to the next generation of entrepreneurs -- beautiful! – Jesper Mortensen 14 years ago
  • +1 Excellent answer, this is very useful information - btw, I am in Austin so where do I sign-up to get a space in your office ;) – Ricardo 13 years ago


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:

  • They essentially only have programmers in the room (*), there are no sales people or managers. This provides 2 important properties: a) nearly no phone calls, which keeps the background noise down. b) over time everyone settles into the same 'day-rhythm', there are specific times of the day where they do meetings, and other times which are more quiet periods.
  • The room is large enough to allow ample spacing between people -- there are work-areas along the edges of the room where people can go for privacy, and here they'll be several meters away from the nearest colleague.
  • There is a culture of quietness, people speak softly, PC sound schemes are off, etc.

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.)

answered Dec 22 '09 at 15:35
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points
  • Jesper - have any experience with white-noise generators? Some of the development shops locally are using them specifically to help with the noise issue. Thanks for the notes - good thought on the spacing and mix of people. – Joseph Fung 14 years ago
  • @Joseph: No experience with white noise generators to speak of. I've been in a few offices where they had them, and my initial response was that it was unsettling, unpleasant. But that's just a first impression from ~1 hour meetings. I have used noise canceling headphones playing the sound of waves hitting a shore at the lowest possible volume, and that was OK -- but natural quiet is still better IMHO; and more comfortable for the ears. – Jesper Mortensen 14 years ago


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.

answered Dec 23 '09 at 04:03
David Gise
211 points
  • Thanks for the suggestions and the link to the co-working group. That's perfect! As a question - what do you think helped make the first space so passionate and collaborativ? Were most of the tennants one-man operations? – Joseph Fung 14 years ago
  • The tenant mix of the first space varied from a few one-man-shows to 3-4 person company's. I think the main factor why that space so collaborative was the similarities of the companies that resided in the space. Similarities in age, type of business and overall culture (dress code, attitude, business trajectory, etc.) Any good news that positively affected someone in the space seemed to permeate throughout the office. Bad news did as well, but at least there were willing shoulders to cry on. – David Gise 14 years ago


  • Open your space for other groups to have meetings, events, meetups, etc... it would attract people to your place and you can earn new members from that.
  • Fast, reliable internet connection
  • Awesome coffee... and teas!
  • Organize meetups between the co-space members, to talk about their businesses and how they can improve things, etc... make sure to provide the drinks(wine, beer).
answered Oct 28 '10 at 23:59
4,815 points


My idea of co-working space is working in my dining room, while my wife is doing dishes, keeping up with the kardashioins is on tv, loud and annoying, and the dog is pulling at my pants.

Co-work enviornments are over-hyped. Nothing is better than privacy and having a door.

answered Nov 1 '10 at 16:10
2,079 points


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:

  • IM client so people can contact each other across the room without shouting
  • Nice client facing area, you could separate this area in open plan with a bookshelf etc.
  • Area where people can make mobile phone calls in private without disturbing others
answered Oct 28 '10 at 14:14
1,257 points


Have the equipment and functionality of an office, the privacy and comfort of home, the coffee and tea of the best shop and the welcoming social atmosphere of your favorite pub.

answered Oct 30 '10 at 06:09
Jeff O
6,169 points


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

answered Oct 29 '10 at 01:38
Henry The Hengineer
4,316 points

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