co-work, co-working space, Spaces

Rethinking Co-Working Spaces

Ideas and Issues
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May 14, 2021

New York City

I’m not going to say that I’m unfamiliar with co-working spaces, although I will say that I have never taken them particularly seriously. I’ve been an old-school real office or no office guy, black-and-white with little gray in-between. Certainly, our office was in a co-working space in Sheffield, England for several years. We had a “hot desk” in another such space in Toronto off-and-on when our main office was chock full. I’ve gone to meetings in other people’s co-working spaces in various locations in New Orleans. I just never thought about it seriously as an option for our operations on an on-going basis.

I took a different look in New York City. I had a meeting with a foundation there that supports our work in India. Naturally, I assumed I was on my way to the usual sort of philanthropic office arrangement, this time on the West Side. The directions were to look for the address at a sign that said ‘Spaces’. I thought nothing of it. I walked into the door and asked the security guy at the desk where the outfit was located since there was no directory. He had never heard of it. That was weird. He said, “let me make a call,” and ended up sending me to a 9th floor reception desk. She knew the group, but asked if I had a phone number to call them, since all she had was an email address. I was definitely confused, and when my appointment did arrive, we didn’t go from there to his office, but around behind the reception area wall to a table to meet.

OK, I had a lot to learn it seems. Spaces was, and is, a competitor to We Work, which to me was more famous for its flameout by its overreaching CEO than the fact that it was the largest co-working space in the world for a hot minute. While We Work was reorganizing its stuff, Spaces seems to have been growing to more than 400 locations even during the pandemic. Furthermore, as people are having different discussions about the future of office-based work, shouldn’t co-working at least be on the list of options, even for old schoolers like myself.

Certainly, the foundation head I was visiting made that case to counter my skepticism, and given the expense of space and leases in New York City, I was all ears. They had just recently gotten back on the treadmill to office-based work a couple of days a week after most of the year being home-based. They only had five staff, so they rented an actual office space from Spaces and got to use the receptionist, meeting rooms, and other amenities as part of the package. That made a certain amount of sense, and a foundation that wasn’t building the Taj Mahal to itself and keeping lean, was certainly refreshing.

Looking at their website later, it seemed this kind of deal might be a good, and relatively inexpensive, way to open up new cities before taking on the sunk cost of an office, especially when, like ACORN and our family of organizations, so much of our work was in the field, not the office. Looking at where there were around the world, I was tempted to become a hot desk or co-working partner myself, although I’ll keep my head about me. Still, even an old dog, still barking, like myself still might be able to learn some new tricks.