Coworking is rising, still. But what about in the suburbs? Especially there. And its members aren’t who you imagine (hipster+Mac+coffee+plaid).
Increasingly suburban coworking is becoming more diversified in age, gender and industry as professionals age out of city life and head to the suburbs for grass and kiddie soccer. And New Jersey, with its transportation infrastructure (hello, NJ Coastline), proximity to Manhattan and concentration of educated, well-heeled talent, is a logical place for workers to retreat to. These new suburban workers here have similar needs to their city counterparts: flexible, affordable office space and community. But it’s not just freelancers and the work-from-home-two-days-a week crowd populating New Jersey’s emerging coworking spaces. It’s also companies.
Spirent, a telecommunications company, moved their 86-employee business development and customer experience division into a 17,000 square-foot space at Bell Works. They came to Bell because it was a place rich in tradition of tech advancement, but that’s not the only reason.
Why are they here?
- Flexible office space
- Opportunities for growth with reduced risk and lower overhead
- Access to new talent and ideas
For Sean Donahue, founding partner in vi Collaboration Hub, coworking encourages creativity and productivity not just within one company, but between organizations.
“The key is that you are not hiding yourself away,” Donahue said. “You’re working in an office setting where other workers might be working on completely different projects for a different company, but they see someone working on something that they feel they could add value too so they decide to chat with that person. Maybe it’s some free advice, maybe a mentoring opportunity, a partnership opportunity, maybe a whole new idea comes from the discussion that could disrupt an entire industry.”
Donahue’s venture, vi Collaboration Hub, incorporates coworking along with incubation and education inside Bell Works. With his partner Chris Palle, the goal is to create an ecosystem that encourages New Jersyans to collaborate on new ventures.
“One thing that we know for certain is that if you are locked away in an office or hidden away in a cube, the chances for these planned serendipitous moments are far less likely, if not impossible.”
Another advantage for companies is happier workers.
It turns out that workers in coworking spaces find their jobs more meaningful.
An excerpt from the HBV report:
“People who use coworking spaces see their work as meaningful. Aside from the type of work they’re doing – freelancers choosing projects they care about, for example — the people we surveyed reported finding meaning in the fact that they could bring their whole selves to work. They’re able to do this in a few ways.
First, unlike a traditional office, coworking spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies, ventures, and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in. Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger. Our respondents were given the opportunity to frequently describe what they do, which can make what they do seem more interesting and distinctive.
Second, meaning may also come from working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out, and there are many opportunities to do so; the variety of workers in the space means that coworkers have unique skill sets that they can provide to other community members.”
And a more diverse talent pool. In today’s jobseeker market, workers have the freedom to decide how they want to work, and most crave flexibility, collaboration and an unconstrained working environment. According to an Intuit study, by 2020 more than 40 percent of the workforce, or 60 million people, will be independent workers. And if current trends persist, these independent workers will increasingly be the best and brightest of the talent pool, with professionals such as attorneys, CMOs and consultants with world-class training choosing to work independently.
In suburban Chicago the coworking space 25N founded by Mara Hauser is attracting workers outside the young freelance crowd, according to a Huffington Post story.
“Unlike their original assumptions about who would come, 25N clearly has all five generations working within their walls. The over 65+ crowd is a smaller percentage, but most users are distributed evenly between thirty-somethings, forty-somethings and fifty-somethings. Half of their members are female,” Huff Post reported.
“The community is evenly distributed with about one-third virtual corporate employees, one-third freelance, and one-third small businesses. These ratios are actually quite different than most urban coworking spaces, who tend to have a larger percentage of freelancers and much smaller percentage of corporate virtual employees. Hauser believes that this is just one of many indicators of the future success of the suburban coworking model. She questions what will happen when millennials, who tend to seek time over money, begin to have families and migrate to the suburbs. She notes, ‘A lot of startups think they have to be in the city, but do they have to if they are in places like this? Many businesses in cities are shrinking their real estate portfolios. They want to have hubs near their customers, but where are customers? Many of them may be in the suburbs. Suburban locations might not be the headquarters, but it can be a great strategy to leverage hubs as an additional employee benefit.’”
One of those employee benefits is connection.
Interior designer Paola Zamudio made this a key principal in her design of offices at Bell Works and within vi Collaboration Hub’s coworking spacing. Private and coworking offices have glass walls allowing workers to see one another working on projects or even going to lunch or for a walk.
“We’re connected with Instagram [but in the future] the connection is going to be meeting other people, real connection, looking at each other’s eyes,” Zamudio said. “Human connection is going to be the next luxury.”
Part of what makes coworking facilities unique from a grouping of small offices is their emphasis on growing together as a business community. At vi members have easy access to the frequent meetups held at Bell Works on everything from small business tax issues and digital marketing, to how to pitch your business to a venture capitalist. When members attend these events they’re not just getting info on a topic and chatting with someone from a different department in their own company. They’re deepening their connections to other members who work outside their company, and maybe outside their industries.
Donahue, who once held a corporate job in a traditional office, said it’s not just that he felt stifled inside a cube, but that he was never energized by his environment. Now he said he’s inspired every day, not just by his work to build vi, but also by the space and the people populating the growing offices.
“The most important thing I always tell people about coworking and about the work we do at vi and Bell Works, is that community is key. People want to be able to work in an active, evolving environment. They need places to focus, but also they long for a sense of companionship and a work environment to collaborate with other like minded people and a place to cross pollinate with others across different industries.”