By Kelsey Kusterer
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
The sign of a successful executive used to be the large corner office with windows, but for many companies and individuals, a shaky economy is changing the look of the workplace in the U.S.
Coworking, a national movement toward shared office space, has begun to take hold in Carrboro. Nationally these coworking spaces come in a variety of forms, but the main premise is to offer freelance professionals and small business owners the choice to rent desks, offices or conference rooms based on their individual needs.
“Coworking provides a bridge between working at home and having your own office,” said Brian Russell, a Chapel Hill resident and owner of Carrboro Creative Coworking, located at 205 Lloyd St.
Russell got the idea to start his coworking business after perusing the Internet and investigating other coworking companies like Citizen Space in San Francisco. Initially, he did not intend to start a coworking business. But after working with James Harris, community and economic development director for Carrboro, Russell began developing a business plan. Carrboro Creative Coworking opened to clients last fall.
“The Carrboro Creative Coworking business model is based on the idea to support, strengthen and build communities within a fiscal community like Carrboro,” Russell said.
Most of Russell’s clientele are freelancers with expertise in computer programs. They come to Russell with a variety of workspace, conference and telecommunication needs. Carrboro Creative Coworking rents office space, desks and conference rooms on a part-time or full-time basis. This provides clients with the flexibility to choose when to use the space they rent and for how long.
Seven of the nine offices at Creative Coworking are filled, and about 12 part-time workers use the space. The prospect of overbooking is not an issue, Russell said, because part-time workers fluctuate as to when they are in the office.
Since his business opened six months ago, Russell has seen a change in the services clients desire. At first many clients wanted to rent desks part-time, but now the shift is toward renting office space. Russell met one couple who rented an office for 17 years, but came to Russell because his services are more affordable than renting from a large office building.
Lia Parks, a Durham resident and designer for Archer Graphics, said that she prefers the affordability coworking offers, especially considering current economic conditions.
Archer Graphics is one of several small businesses sharing office space at Peck and Artisans, another Carrboro-based coworking group. Tim Peck, a Carrboro resident and owner of Peck and Artisans, located at 203 W. Main St., plans to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his coworking space in early April.
Peck, a plumber and general contractor, acquired a building about a year ago and had several leasing offers. Building constraints prevented him from partitioning off the 1,000-square-foot space with walls, and no company wanted to rent the entire space. After reading about Russell’s coworking idea in an article in the Carrboro Citizen last year, Peck asked his potential renters if they would like to try sharing the space.
Like most new business models, Peck and Artisans ran into a few roadblocks along the way. The lack of walls gives the space an open feel, but some coworkers expressed concern about privacy. Peck said they are learning to strike a balance between open conversation and an office etiquette that shows respect for the solitude of others.
“Everyone needs to know what their limit of kibitzing and conversation [is] because obviously you’re here to get stuff done, and that’s important,” Peck said. “Most people are very focused on their own thing.”
David Schneider, a Carrboro resident and senior editor for IEEE Spectrum magazine, enjoys the comradery at Peck and Artisans, where he has worked since May 2008. He believes coworking falls in line with what he calls “the water cooler effect.” Schneider says it’s “deeply human to interact,” and he finds the coworking model to be positive because of the sense of community it generates.
Peck likes the feel of an “office family,” and he appreciates the opportunity to work outside the home.
“People could have a home office, but there’s a professional aspect being away from home,” said Peck.
Russell says coworking “will transform commercial real estate” and will change the way businesses use office space. Big businesses used to filter profits into building large office spaces, but Russell wonders whether banks will be able to offer large construction loans in the future. He sees micro-leasing as a means for small businesses to obtain smaller lease commitments and to share workspace with other companies.
“Dilution is the solution,” Russell said regarding the future of flexible workspace.