Coworking: Seattle office collectives take off

The art -- and business -- of working alone together.
A few members of Greenwood's Works Progress

A few members of Greenwood's Works Progress Photo: Works Progress/ Facebook

As a self-employed financial planner, Dana Twight mostly worked from home, occasionally visiting her local coffee shop if she needed to meet clients. But her routine changed when she heard a local radio station interview with Jacob Sayles.

Sayles is the co-owner of Office Nomads, a Capitol Hill coworking space. Twight decided to visit Office Nomads last spring for a trial day. After just one visit, she felt more productive. Another bonus: Office Nomads was only a few minutes from her house.

Dana Twight is only a drop in the wave of freelancers who are benefiting from the collaborative space scene that is booming in the Pacific Northwest.

Coworking, if you’ve never heard of it, is the act of making a personal choice to work alongside other people instead of in isolation. The idea emerged in 2005. Credit Brad Neuberg, a software developer in San Francisco.

Seattle's collaborative space scene started two years later when Sayles and Susan Dorsch founded Office Nomads. The city's coworking scene has since grown — there was only one space in 2007, now there are 19 spread around the Greater Seattle area. That growth is due in part to an increase in the number of freelancers (bigger companies have increasingly turned to contract workers to save money) and telecommuters (improved technology facilitates more remote work). A boom in startup businesses is also fueling the growth.

Like Twight, hundreds of freelancers and telecommuters began looking for an ideal workspace. Coffee shops, libraries and cubicle rentals have long been sanctuaries for freelancers grown frustrated with distractions at home. Coworking spaces give freelancers and telecommuters something more — an intentional community.

Having recently upgraded her Office Nomads membership to five days per month, Twight stresses the importance of community in completing her work. “It's nice to have that sense of being with other people,” she says.

Twight first heard chatter about cubicle rentals in the early 2000s, but the image of an office cubicle seemed too cold to her. At Office Nomads, Twight feels a sense of community, especially as she interacts with people of various occupations, from graphic designers to a freelance science writer for the EPA. Although she kept to herself when she first started working there, Twight has become more active. For one of the weekly brown bag lunches the space hosts, she led a workshop about insurance for small entrepreneurs.

Member outings, networking events and brown bag lunches are common ways many coworking spaces foster community. Some space owners employ additional staff specifically to manage their coworking communities. Some are volunteers, some are compensated through memberships, and some are paid.

At Office Nomads, "Community Cultivators" get free membership in exchange for being the eyes and ears of the space. At Works Progress, based in Greenwood, a few volunteers take shifts manning the space's welcome desk and organizing workshops.

As Seattle's coworking scene grew, Susan Dorsch and a couple of her colleagues formed Coworking Seattle as a support group for people trying to create community-based coworking spaces. In 2012, boasting more members, the group changed its name to the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance and defined a distinct mission: to unify, support and promote the collaborative space movement in Seattle.

The Alliance's regular, third-Tuesday-of-the-month meetings bring Seattle's collaborative space owners and prospective coworkers together. In the past three years, the gatherings have spawned and strengthened the relationships among collaborative spaces in Seattle.

Jessie Rymph and Marnee Chua of the newly-opened Works Progress got their first insights into managing a collaborative space when they connected with the owner of a Maple Valley coworking space at an SCSA meeting.

Rymph noted that the Alliance has made the collaborative space scene in Seattle very supportive, especially compared to other cities across the country, where coworking businesses can be more competitive. One reason for the comity is that each Seattle coworking space is trying to appeal to a different demographic.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Apr 25, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks so much!

nomadicq

Posted Thu, Apr 25, 3:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Excellent article, there appears to be a trend of this happening lately. It would be interesting to read an article which compares all of the options. Perhaps I'll write one on my blog at http://www.seattleofficespaces.com. I've been inside almost all of the spaces and know all the neighborhoods. If this is of interest, please let me know.

Posted Sat, Apr 27, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

If this sort of thing really becomes the norm, then it will render huge downtown office towers obsolete. It will also render "high-capacity transit" obsolete, because people will work in their own homes, or in shared office space within walking distance of their homes, instead of everyone traveling to the downtown business core every day. Why would people commute between Everett and Seattle, or Bellevue and Seattle when they can just work from home or share office space within walking distance of their home?

Lincoln

Posted Fri, May 10, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I really like seeing attention on the Seattle coworking scene, but I'm sad to see SURF Incubator, one of Seattle's largest coworking spaces (and just a few blocks from HUB), not even get a mention.

fugu13

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