What to Look for in a Coworking Space


Coworking spaces are all the rage these days, especially for telecommuters and startups.  You might be wondering what things you should look for in a coworking space.

First, a coworking space should have flexible lease terms.  The amenities in a coworking space should include internet, computers, printers, office supplies, mail services, private offices, and storage space.

Read on to learn more about what to look for in your coworking space!

Lease Terms

You should consider several things before signing a lease.  Consider the length of the lease, the price of the space, the hours and availability, and any extras.

Try Before You Buy

Make sure to try the space for a coworking day, not just for a 30-minute tour with the manager!  If anyone tries to pressure you into a lease without trying the space, that is a red flag.

After testing the coworking space for a day, write down any questions you have about the facility.  Make sure to forward these to the manager, and use the answers as part of your decision making process.

Month-to-Month or Longer Term

When you rent a coworking space or an apartment, you can rent month-to-month or longer term.  A month-to-month lease means that you are creating a new one month long lease, each and every month.

One benefit of renting month-to-month is that you can leave at any time.  All you need to do is give your landlord one month’s notice.  You aren’t on the hook for paying any more rent after that.  The downside of renting month-to-month is that the landlord can raise the rent at any time.  Theoretically, the increase could be any amount!  All your landlord needs to do is give you one month’s notice of the rent increase.

Longer-term leases work differently.  With a lease length of one year, you are on the hook for the rent until the lease ends.  If you decide to leave, you still have to pay for the rest of the year.  However, one advantage for you is that the landlord can only raise the rent when the lease expires.  In some cases, it might be possible to “buy out” the remainder of your lease for less than full price.

With all of this in mind, ask about the lease terms at the coworking spaces you are looking into.  Also, ask how much the monthly rate can increase when the lease ends.  Remember that with month-to-month leases, the rent can technically increase every month!

Price

The price of a coworking space is a cost per day, month, or term.

Example

The price of a coworking space might be $20 for a single day.

The price of that same coworking space might be $300 per month, if you rent it for the whole month.

If you sign a 1-year lease, they might discount the price by 10% to $270 per month.

Remember that the price per month might not always be the right number to look at.  Let’s say that the coworking space costs $20 for a single day.  You can also opt to pay $300 for the entire month.

Dividing $300 by 30 days in a month gives us a cost of $10 per day.  This is clearly a better bargain than the $20 per day, right?  Well, let’s think this one through.  The price is only $10 per day if you go to the coworking space every single day.

What if you only go 3 days per week?  Then you might use it 12 days in a month.  At that point, the cost is $300 / 12 = $25 per day.  You would end up paying $5 more per day than you have to!

There is a moral to this story.  Before you buy the “bulk discount”, think about how much you will use the space.

Finally, think about other hidden costs.  Is there any type of move-in free or security deposit due?  Ask how much these cost.  You might manage to negotiate a decrease if you ask.

Use & Availability

Another factor to consider is the use and availability of the space.  Will you be able to use the space how you want, when you want?

Example

Ask if you can conduct group tutoring or test prep at a coworking space.

If allowed, you will likely need to rent a private conference room to run the class.  Otherwise, if you conduct the class in a public area of the coworking space, you may disturb other members!

The same reasoning applies if you want to run some type of seminar or networking event.  You should ask in advance, so that you don’t run afoul of the rules.  You also want to find out how long your reservation lasts, and don’t run over time!  In addition, make sure that you reserve the proper size space.  Ask how many people you can have in a conference room, so that you can plan ahead.

Another concern is availability.  What if the space constantly overbooks the conference rooms or private rooms you need?  Even a pricey membership will not help if you can’t access the space and resources you need.  Make sure to write down a list of what you want, and ask about it as you compare coworking spaces!

Finally, you should consider the hours of operation.  Are you a night owl?

Then you might want to look for a coworking space that caters to your schedule.  Ask about the hours up front, so that you can plan ahead.  If you wish the space was open earlier or later, you should ask.  If they get enough requests, they might make an accommodation!

Membership Upgrades

In addition, you should consider questions regarding upgrades to your coworking space membership.  Can you upgrade later without extra fees?  Perhaps you are just starting a business, or trying out telecommuting one day per week.  In that case, it might make sense to pay by the day.

Later on, your business may grow.  You might also end up telecommuting 2 or 3 days per week.  At that point, it makes sense to pay for a membership that gives you 10 days per month.

Eventually, you might work 5 or more days per week in the coworking space.  At that point, you will want to upgrade your membership.  If you make your case, the space might allow you to upgrade without paying extra fees.

Always Try to Negotiate!

Along the same lines, it never hurts to try to negotiate on the terms of a coworking space agreement.  Ask what kinds of discounts are available.  Can you pay a lower daily or monthly fee if you commit to 3 months, 6 months, or a year?  Will they offer you a discount if you pay for the entire term up front?

On another note, do you know anyone who wants to telecommute, or need a space to start his own business?  If you refer people, ask if there is a referral bonus for bringing them in!  You might even consider splitting the referral bonus with the person you refer.

Amenities

The amenities offered at a coworking space will determine, in part, how comfortable and productive you are.  You should consider technology, furniture, services, and any extra perks that might be available to you.

Kitchen

How extensive is the kitchen space?  They might only have a coffee pot and a microwave.  If they don’t have much in the way of a kitchen, ask about nearby restaurants.

On the other hand, a large space with hundreds of members might have cafeteria workers on staff.  In that case, you will several meal options.  You can prepare your own food, order from the kitchen, or go out to eat.

Gyms or Health Clubs

A larger coworking space with many members might have a gym onsite.  If so, check it out while you are there.  If it suits your needs, you might be able to cancel your current gym membership.  In that case, you can subtract that amount from the total cost for the space!

If there is no gym in the space, ask about nearby gyms.  By batching your tasks together, you can save time during the day.  If the coworking space, gym, and grocery store are close together, you can save yourself from driving around too much.

Child Care Facilities

Again, a larger coworking space may very well have a child care facility on site.  This is especially true if they cater to employees or entrepreneurs who have young families.  This could be an attractive option to save you driving time.  It would also allow you to see your kids during the day!

If there is no facility on site, ask about nearby locations.  Also ask about discounts for members of the coworking space.  If enough members have an interest, you might have the clout to ask a facility directly for a group discount.

Continuing Education

As an added bonus, many spaces might offer continuing education for members.  These classes, seminars, and conferences could be at a free or reduced rate.  Some potential topics include:

  • how to be an effective remote worker
  • how to manage remote employees and teams
  • leadership
  • public speaking
  • negotiation
  • business finance
  • business taxes
  • accounting
  • software training
  • programming languages
  • new laws

You could even offer to do your own training or seminar.  There are two advantages to this.  One advantage is that you might find some potential clients among fellow members of the space.  Another advantage is that others might want to give their own presentations.

You can also set up a rotating series of seminars, using conference space.  That way, members of the coworking space can keep each other up do date on all sorts of topics.  This could include information on laws, taxes, business, software, and many other areas.

Technology

Of course, a coworking space should offer high-speed internet, preferably Wi-Fi, for free.  The internet should be reliable – test this!  They should also have a backup, just in case.  You don’t want to lose a deal or sale because of an internet issue.  Ask if they have a backup network!

You may have a computer, but the coworking space should offer free “public” computers for members to use.  Also, extra monitors should be available.  This gives you a bigger screen when working on a tablet or small laptop.

Printers should also be available – ask about limits on how much you can print, and what the additional costs are!

Soundproof phone booths are another must-have for certain professionals.  This is especially true if you deal with confidential, sensitive, or proprietary information over the phone.  Also, you may not want customers to hear noise from the common areas of the coworking space.

Some coworking spaces will also have smart boards in the conference rooms.  These boards allow you to write and erase, without the dust of chalkboards or the fumes of markers.  Also, there is no messy and time-consuming cleanup!

Of course, there are some items that you will need to provide for yourself or your employees.  If you want to see the equipment I use for telecommuting, check out my Resources page.

Furniture

You should expect a chair to sit in, a desk to work at, and conference tables for meetings.  However, you should also take ergonomics into account.  Are the chairs adjustable and comfortable?  Do the desks have enough space for you to do your work?  Are the conference tables big enough for your team?  You should pay attention to these factors when you try a “test run”.  By “test run”, I mean pay for a day in the space and try to work efficiently!

You should also look for (or ask about) standing workstations and other ergonomic equipment.  The space might have an ergonomic mouse or keyboard for you to borrow or rent.

In addition, ask about storage space and lockers for your belongings.  With a secure locker, you can comfortably step outside without taking everything with you.

Finally, you should think about the common space.  How much time will you be spending here?  Do they have comfortable chairs and couches?  Do they have a coffee table with magazines?  Think about what you would want in your ideal home office.  Make a list, and ask about those things, or look for it when you visit the space.

You might find that the space does not provide what you need.  In that case, ask if you can bring it yourself.  This is not ideal, but if the space fits your needs otherwise, it might be the best option.

On a related note, you could also visit a coworking space to find inspiration for your own home office!

Decor & Ambiance

You know it when you see it.  There should be nice plants in the coworking space to make it feel more alive and natural.  Below is a picture of one of my African Violet plants.

The lighting should include both natural light from windows and appropriate overhead and task lighting.

You might also see tasteful artwork.  Music at a low volume might be acceptable, as long as it is instrumental.  I find that music with lyrics tends to distract me when I am working.

Finally, think about how the place makes you feel.  I am not trying to be earthy-crunchy, touchy-feely here.  If the color scheme depresses you or has a bad vibe, walk away.

This can be very subjective.  If you like to work quietly alone, you won’t like a space with lots of noise.  If you are an extrovert, you might enjoy having people to discuss the day’s work with.

Mail and Shipping Services

One service offered might include mail pickup and drop-off, including USPS, UPS, and FedEx.

It is nice to have a business address that is not your home address.  This is almost like having a P.O. Box at your coworking space.  That way, your customers will never know that you don’t work out of a huge office building!

Parking

Perhaps you live in a city where parking is at a premium.  If so, make sure that the coworking space provides a space!  The last thing you want is to feed a parking meter or pay steep daily parking rates.

Similarly, if you use public transportation, make sure that there is a bus or train stop close by.  That is, unless you like long walks in the rain!

Finally, consider the length of your commute.  Telecommuting from a coworking space too far from home can eat up a lot of your time.  Remember that time saved on a long commute is a big benefit of telecommuting!

Concierge

Perhaps you are extremely busy, and would rather spend your time building your career or business than doing errands.  In that case, a concierge service could make your workday much more pleasant and productive.

For instance, have someone pickup your laundry at the space, and drop it off at the end of the day.  This will only take a few minutes from your day, instead of an hour.  You could also have someone do your shopping for you.  You can save an hour or more on a busy day by outsourcing these tasks.

Ask about an on-site concierge service.  If they don’t offer one, suggest that they consider asking other members of the space!  If there is enough interest, the coworking space could add an extra revenue source.  This would make the space more profitable for the owners.  It would also make the space more productive for those who work there.

A concierge service is an especially nice fringe benefit for a startup to offer to employees.  This is true if you cannot offer much in the way of pay and traditional benefits.  People are more willing to work hard for your company if you save them time on routine tasks!

Member Discounts

It is worth asking if the coworking space offers discounts at certain business for members.  For instance, many businesses or employees would love discounts on office supplies at Staples (online or in store).  They might also like to see discounts on software, such as TurboTax (business edition!), Microsoft Office, or antivirus software.

You might also ask about discounts on insurance including health, dental, life, disability, and even personal or professional liability.  Many business owners pay high rates for insurance for themselves and their employees.  If several businesses in a coworking space banded together, they might be able to receive a discount rate.

If none of these discounts exist, you can ask about them to start the ball rolling!

Extra Perks

Some extra perks to consider include refreshments.  Does the space offer free food and drinks or coffee?  Do they take orders for local restaurants and have everything delivered right to the space at lunch time?  Do they throw parties for members from time to time?  Are there networking events, conferences, or seminars held there that you could attend for free?

Finally, ask if members receive discounts at local businesses, such as restaurants, coffee shops, or gyms.  If so, you could regularly patronize these establishments with fellow members of the coworking space.  Again, these could be great opportunities to do some networking.  You might even find some synergy with people who work right alongside you!

All of these things could make the space more enjoyable, so ask and find out.  The space may not offer the benefit now, but perhaps it will in the future.

Suggestions

I have a couple of suggestions for choosing a coworking space.  You should visit first, and shop around.

Visit First

Pay the standard daily fee for the coworking space for a day.  Then, hang out there during normal working hours.  Bring some work, and try to finish it.  Is it what you expect?  Is it quiet enough?  Are there people to talk to, if you want to chat?  Does the technology work as expected?  Are there staff members available to answer any questions or help you with problems?

Also, try to meet as many other existing members as possible.  This may be difficult with new spaces.  However, you can get a sense of how the community operates by talking with its members.  Do they keep to themselves, or welcome new people?  Do they seem approachable or standoffish?  This is a matter of personal preference, but it is part of your research, so don’t skip this part!

Remember that first impressions matter.  If the facility doesn’t impress you on the first day, what makes you think it will improve later?

Shop Around

Visit a few different coworking spaces and comparison shop.  Make note of the features and amenities you are looking for, as well as prices.  This may help in your negotiations as well!  One more thing that helps in negotiations is referrals.  If you bring multiple people from your company to the space, you can reasonably ask for a larger discount.

Additional Considerations

A coworking space can provide an opportunity for networking.  It may also have some financial benefits, depending on how much you pay now.

Friends and Business Partners

In a coworking space, you can get away from politics at the traditional office and distractions at home.  You might also meet a friend, business partner, or a talented freelancer!

On the other hand, you could meet an executive who hires for the job you seek.  You might even find people willing to pay for your consulting services.

Financial Considerations

As an employee, your company may reimburse you for the cost of a coworking space.  If you are a contractor, you can deduct the expense against earnings from your business.  As always, ask an accountant, but these financial incentives can make coworking even more attractive.

Cost of Traditional Office Space

For most small companies and startups, cash is tight.  A coworking space may be able to accommodate a small team while you get up and running.  The total cost might be a fraction of what you would pay in a traditional office space.  This could mean the difference between success and bankruptcy for your business, so it is worth considering!

For Frequent Flyers

If you travel often, ask if you can access affiliated coworking spaces in different cities.

Security

You might want to make sure that the coworking space is secure.  Electronic access cards or some sort of check-in process would be things to look for.

For Startups and Companies

Are you a startup or business owner?  If so, there are two other questions to ask before signing a lease at a coworking space.

First, think about how it will be to meet clients at the space.  Would you be comfortable going there as a client?  If not, you might want to rent a small traditional office space for the sole purpose of meeting clients.

Second, think about the future of your company.  How fast do you expect to grow, and by how much?  Can the space hold two or three times as many employees?  If so, will the space still work for you company?

You might find that the space will not suit your needs later on.  In that case, it might be better to find a space now that can accommodate your growth later.

Only you can answer these questions for your business, but you should think about it in advance!

Conclusion

A coworking space can offer numerous benefits, especially if you are having trouble concentrating at a home office.  Do your homework and you can find a good deal at a coworking space you will like.  I hope this article was helpful in thinking about what to consider in a coworking space.  Please leave a comment below if I have left anything out!

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