Hot-desking gets hot in Portland and Seattle

Alt-workspace by the hour, day, week, or until your client is suitably impressed.
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Office Nomads in Seattle.

Alt-workspace by the hour, day, week, or until your client is suitably impressed.

Good for you, you got that promising small business rolling. Event planning, say, or investment advising. Or maybe you're launching a boutique public relations firm, organizing a reunion, or raising money for a cause. Most of the time you work with clients by telephone or e-mail, perhaps dropping by their offices occasionally. But what if you need real meeting space to wow a client? Or what if the siren call of the fridge and daytime TV make that home office less than perfect?

Perhaps you need a hot desk – the alternative office for those who don't want or need traditional spaces. (Important semantic disclaimer: These places are not to be confused with hot-sheet motels, which are by-the-hour lodging of sufficient sleaze that I can't find a decent link for the term. So trust me on this one.)

Hot desks aren't a new notion. They caught on in Great Britain and East Coast U.S. cities before popping up out here. Used to be that the closest things were those wonderful writer's rooms in public libraries. (I had the good luck to get a seat in the downtown Seattle Public Library many years ago – a free, quiet spot where I cranked out horrible fiction and prepared remarks for the inevitable Pulitzer banquet.) Places like the Writers' Dojo in Portland still cater specifically to the novelists, poets, and biographers among us. You'd be surprised how helpful it is to have other tortured souls around when a deadline is looming.

But while hot-desk purveyors like Souk in Portland and Office Nomads and My Day Office, both in Seattle, appeal to writers, they serve a much wider clientele. Business appears to be brisk.

Julia Duryea started Souk (the name means a kind of lively Moroccan bazaar) last year in a hip brick-and-good-light space in Portland's Chinatown. She knew from her own work as a management consultant that traditional office space doesn't work for everyone, and she saw changes that boded well for the future of flexible workspaces. One that she described to me:

I'm optimistic about a trend that's happening in and around Portland. Now that many people aren't geographically tethered to work, but are part of creative groups banding together for a project or projects, they need different space. It's more of a Hollywood model – the players come together, do their work, then disband.

Souk's a poster-child for the wide appeal of hot desks. Anca Solberg runs BecomeX, a not-for-profit that teaches life skills to young women, using Souk as evening classroom space as well as a daytime site for board meetings. Colleen Paynich heads up Half Circle P Ranch, a small corporate development and venture creation biz, working with emerging companies and investors. She keeps a home office, too, and travels often. Souk gives her an alternative meeting space and a chance to rub elbows with other creative types.

That elbow-rubbing thing is an appealing part of hot-desking. Usually a hot-desk site offers a mix of private cubbyholes and meeting rooms, as well as big-room open space where users can do some spontaneous networking or just take comfort in seeing other people managing to make a go of their out-of-the-box businesses.

Hot-desk fees at Souk and the funkier ("no soul-crushing corporate values") Office Nomads range from $10 an hour to $20 a day to upwards of $500 a month, with drop-in and contract deals available. My Day Office is pricier, with initiation fees and an ala carte services list that would make Donald Trump feel at home.

Perks include desks and chairs with nearby outlets or wireless, common spaces, small storage containers, varying access to fax/mail/copying services, as well as referral-based or by-appointment secretarial support. Varying levels of cellphone chat are tolerated.

Assuming hot-desking spreads – and it is too smart a concept not to – this is good news for all of us. Creative business types, writers, and others get increasingly varied flex-space at competitive prices, and the poor guy who just wants a quiet cuppa at the corner coffee shop will no longer have to tolerate those annoying suits holding a business meeting at the next table.


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