What I learned about co-working spaces

Co-working spaceWhen the company I work for hired another person in Springfield, we needed some office space. But I didn’t want to get a formal office, and a local co-working space had been recommended by a friend, so I suggested we tour the space.

The service sounded pretty great. They would provide a desk, chair, monitor, high speed Internet, power, and 24/7 access with parking. We would have access to a number of conference rooms. And coffee during regular business hours was included with all of this.

Sadly, it didn’t work out, but I learned some interesting things along the way.

First, I learned that coffee was super important to me. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is because 100% of the time I went into the co-working space, there was no coffee, and it took 10-15 minutes to make coffee using their commercial coffee grinder and brewer. This was time I could have been doing billable work, but instead I had to make coffee, sometimes twice a day, a task I had thought I was paying for so I didn’t have to do it. This meant that either my company made less money, or I had to work longer, which was pretty annoying.

The second reason that this was important to me was that coffee was a service that was advertised but not provided. That we paid for, but which wasn’t reliably there. Just like how I didn’t have a desk, chair, or monitor the day I moved in. Or none of us had parking permits or access to conference rooms for three weeks after moving in.

The coffee, or lack thereof, was important to me because it represented us paying for something and not getting it. It represented poor service and a certain degree of injustice.

When the owners of the co-working space were confronted with these and other matters, the response was always along the lines of, “Sorry, not sorry,” or so one of my co-workers put it. They would shrug with a look of, “You’re right, but what can we do?” There was always somebody else to blame, or some ambiguous “system” that was causing delays or failure of services.

And this was the second thing I learned about co-working spaces: the message was that all of us at the co-working space were roommates. When things went wrong, it was all of us together against the “system,” or we were supposed to band together to get things done ourselves. There was no one to be angry at because coffee wasn’t made, or there was no chair or desk, or every conference room was taken by an outside conference, because we’re all roommates and I have just as much a responsibility to make things right as anyone else.

But I didn’t agree with that. The people running the co-working space weren’t my roommates, they were the landlords. My company was giving them money in exchange for a service.

And so I learned a third thing, which is that co-working spaces aren’t for me. I’m sure other co-working spaces are run differently, but the bottom line is that sharing space didn’t work out well for me when paying so much for that space.

Subsequently, we have signed a lease at an office building downtown, bought furniture, and ordered electronics. It’ll be really nice to have a private space that is reliably there for us. No one walking in in the middle of training sessions, or equipment going missing, or unfulfilled promises.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to move into a co-working space, I urge you to think about the level of service you expect. If you just want a place to sit that has power and (usually) Internet, you can pretty much count on a co-working space to provide that. For anything else, it may be more like a roommate situation where you should expect to be mostly providing for yourself, and treat the times when someone does for you as a pleasant surprise. Sometimes our roommates cook dinner for us, and that’s awesome, but we shouldn’t expect it as a matter of course. It’s probably best to approach a co-working space with the same mentality.

As for me, I want to provide the same sort of service that I expect to receive. When someone hires me to do something, I’m going to do the thing I was hired to do, and the buck stops at me. If I drop the ball, then it’s my fault and I need to make it right. There’s just, “Sorry. I’m going to make this right for you.”

I think that’s how we should all be. At least some co-working spaces are not, so I’ll stick with private offices from here on forward.

3 thoughts on “What I learned about co-working spaces

  1. Hi, Matthew!

    I’ve been working in coworking spaces for 6 years now. Despite I’ve never had any of the problems you’ve described I really sorry about the problem you had in those space.

    The truth is that each coworking space has their own culture and rules. Some spaces are self-managing so their members help with almost everything on the daily basis. Some don’t. It seems that it was not your case.

    But, honestly, I think you choose the wrong headline for your article. The reason is that each coworking space is different from each other. And it may not me the best fit for your needs.

    I’ve also had bad experiences with project managers in the past but it doesn’t make all PMs bad ones.

    When anyone ask me how to choose a coworking space or if it’s better or worse than a private office, I always say that it depends on their needs. Some people want to save money (freelancers etc), some are looking for a place to meet their team and/or clients (small agencies etc), some do work that has very sensitive information (lawyers, consultants etc) and so on.

    Based on your testimonial I believe that your experience was much more related to a not so good service than a bad fit. Although you’ve rented your own office I think you could give yourself another try in another coworking spaces.

    If I could help you with anything, feel free to get in touch with me.

    All the best lucky for you!

    1. You’re totally right Cadu. The title of this post could have been better, and one of my colleagues works at a co-working space in Toronto that he really likes, so I know that some are better.

      Springfield doesn’t have any other co-working spaces, but for the type of work we do here in Springfield, I suspect it’s just not a good fit. One of the things we do is deliver remote training for 4-6 hours at a time, so we need access to quiet rooms where we could do that. The owner of the space assured us that was one of their services, and we were guaranteed access provided we scheduled it in advance, which we always did. But we had multiple occasions where someone (sometimes the co-owner of the co-working space) would interrupt a training by coming into the room to mess with equipment, or equipment would be missing or not working, or the furniture would be broken and cause troubles. Towards the end of our lease, a conference was scheduled in the building that used all of the rooms such that we couldn’t conduct training at all.

      There were definitely service issues. But there was also a sense that the space and its resources were shared and availability wasn’t truly guaranteed. That wasn’t good enough for us, and we need more stability than a co-working space can provide. As you say, there are likely better ones out there, but for our needs, I think the private offices will work better.

      1. Hi Matthew, thanks for you reply!

        In a shared office, room and resource availability can be very difficult to guarantee if they have a lot of coworkers but it wouldn’t about the quality of service.

        I hope that everything becomes better for you from now.

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