ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When digital marketing specialist Meredith Eisenberg had more work than she could handle, she turned to a coworker for help. Her client received expert help setting up systems for a growing business, Eisenberg got the job done and her coworker added a line on her résumé.
Just another day at the office, right?
For Eisenberg, who helps clients launch businesses online, a coworker is someone who shares space with her at Convivium Coworking, one of a growing number of places in the city to offer Internet, coffee and camaraderie for the growing ranks of freelancers, solopreneurs and telecommuters.
Coworkers say such spaces offer the kind of serendipitous interactions they can’t find in a home office or cafe.
“We’re not selling space here,” says Deborah Reese, who runs Convivium. “We’re selling our community.”
In coworking lingo, Reese holds the title of catalyst, or someone who helps get a new space off the ground. She turned to coworking out of desperation. Reese was embarking on a new job as a mediator but needed places to work with clients outside her home. She tried executive spaces but found them impersonal.
“No one was talking to each other, everyone was locked in their own private office,” she says. “I started feeling this yearning to be part of a community.”
She resolved to start a place for solopreneurs, then learned the concept was already a global phenomenon.
In fact, more than 2,000 coworking spaces have opened worldwide, including nearly 800 in the U.S. — a 250 percent increase since 2010, according to DeskMag, an online magazine about co-working. In Albuquerque, five spaces have opened in recent years. (A sixth, Quelab, is a “hackerspace” that provides space for light manufacturing projects but also offers coworking hours.)
Coworking has blossomed in the last year, says Jamii Corley, catalyst at Ideas & Coffee, a coworking space on Indian School NE that opened in July and is sponsored by Internet provider Southwest Cyberport, where she is vice president.
Given their collaborative and community emphasis, coworking spaces are not run like top-down companies. To explore coworking, Reese started a series of informal lunches with other work-at-homers. The group worked together for months to decide what the space should include and visited potential sites around Albuquerque with Reese.
The result, on Anaheim NE near Paseo del Norte, is several spaces in one. In addition to an open area with brightly colored walls and natural light, where members use laptops at desks, there is a comfortable sitting area, a training room and a small office members use for meetings. In the kitchen, people chat and scrawl ideas on a massive whiteboard.
New water cooler
Coworkers say benefits include a broader social circle and business network and increased productivity. In a DeskMag survey of more than 2,000 coworkers worldwide, 71 percent of respondents said their creativity increased after joining a coworking space. For 38 percent, coworking increased their income.
At Ideas & Coffee, Corley says coworkers find other small business owners to share expertise or referrals and chat about work-related topics, “the kind of things you would be talking about around the water cooler.”
For many startups, renting a space would be impossible, Corley says. In the Uptown area, a small office costs about $750, she says. Full-time access to Ideas & Coffee, which includes 15 hours of time in a private “quiet room,” as well as printing (including paper and ink), faxing, scanning, Wi-Fi, coffee and tea, is $150.
Everyone who starts a business needs expertise in areas like web marketing and basic accounting, Reese says. In coworking spaces, members often find those resources at the next desk.
“The people who have those skills are really generous with their time,” Reese adds. “You give your time and energy because you know you’re going to get it back somewhere along the line.”
Noel Schaefer, an Albuquerque attorney, started FACIL!TY, a downtown coworking space and gallery, in July with fiancee Hannah Gutierrez. Schaefer was drawn to the concept from personal experience. Working at home or meeting clients at coffee shops isolated him from spontaneous interactions.
“(At a coffee shop) you may be surrounded by people, but you still don’t have that kind of interaction,” he says.
Many independent workers say they relish the newfound camaraderie of coworking.
“I was feeling lonely bouncing around in my house with my dogs,” Eisenberg says. “And spending way too much time on Facebook.”
Coworking is not for everyone, especially if your work involves constant calls or confidential information.
But even for those who work best alone there are benefits to shared space. Susana Rinderle, an Albuquerque-based business trainer, consultant and coach and the president of Susana Rinderle Consulting, is most creative when she works alone. But when she needs “some hilarity or some mentoring” she turns to Convivium.
Sometimes help comes from unlikely sources. In return for website tips, she offered a coworker advice about working with Generation-Y interns. She also tested out a speech on her coworkers.
“What is helpful for me is that these are all people who are self-employed, bright and energetic but they have no idea about my field,” she says.
While coworking is still new, local spaces feature events that introduce people to the concept.
On a recent Friday, about 20 people gathered at Ideas & Coffee to work on the blogger platform WordPress. Some were highly skilled; others just wading into the blogosphere. Barbara Piper, a retired Albuquerque Public Schools educator, was hoping to learn skills she could put to use for the website of her band, the Watermelon Mountain Jug Band.
“I am a social learner, so this type of space is perfect for me,” Piper says.
Exactly who is a coworker ranges widely. At Ideas & Coffee, members have a techie bent. At FACIL!TY, they include web developers, artists and nurses.
In this year’s DeskMag survey, 53 percent were freelancers and the rest were entrepreneurs and employees. Last year’s survey found that most coworkers are highly educated and one third earn higher than the average wage in their home country. The average age was 34 and two-thirds of coworkers were men.
Most transitioned to coworking from a home office — only 4 percent had worked in a coffee shop.
Reese sees potential for coworking in Albuquerque’s work-at-home population. According to a 2010 Census Bureau report, about 17,000 people work at home, or 4.5 percent of the population.
The new economy
Coworking is more than a move toward trendy offices — advocates say it can help turn around the economy.
Schaefer sees coworking in the context of a larger collaborative movement. He and other catalysts are working on a program that would give members access to all coworking spaces in the city. He also works with groups like the New Mexico Technology Council and plans to team with spaces in Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
Convivium now has interns who learn about starting a business while hosting the space. Eventually, Reese would like to see a directory of coworkers so New Mexico businesses could hire locally.
With their focus on networking and development, coworking spaces act as incubators for local businesses, advocates say.
As employees look toward entrepreneurship and away from the traditional 30-year company job, spaces that help independent workers are increasingly important to the local economy, Reese says.
“These individuals are creating businesses, they’re creating jobs,” Schaefer says. “It really is the essence of local business.”
Coworking showcases new models, as people form small companies that easily react to the market, Corley says.
“We are making a big dent in the economy, one solo entrepreneur at a time,” Reese says.
For information and a directory of Albuquerque coworking spaces see albuquerquecoworking.com.
Convivium Coworking — conviviumcoworking.com
Facil!ty — facilitycoworking.com
Ideas & Coffee — ideasandcoffee.com/blog
Newton’s Cradle — facebook.com/NewtonsCradleabq or email@example.com
Quelab — quelab.net/wordpress
TechLove — www.techlove.us
Here are some other resources for coworking:
Indy Hall — Located in Philadelphia, Albuquerque coworkers describe this as one of the most vibrant coworking communities in the United States. indyhall.org
DeskMag — An ezine that has followed coworking for years. As a result, it has collected a lot of good data about coworking. deskmag.com
Coworking conference in Paris — coworkingeurope.net
New Work City — A coworking space in New York. Website features founder Tony Bacigalupo’s presentation on how to fix the job crisis through coworking. slideshare.net/tonybacigalupo/lets-fix-the-stupid-job-crisis-ourselves#btnNext