Pennsylvania was one of the states that started it all for coworking in the U.S. Coworking is a way to rent desk space in a Done For You office environment — just show up and plug in. You choose a plan to fit your schedule. But it can be much more than just a desk because it comes with coworkers! However, these are not the coworkers you remember from your days in the office. Coworking is a movement that’s catching hold because of the rising number of location-independent workers. Though coworking originated in the big cities, the Lehigh Valley now has a variety of coworking options. These range from the membership-based model to strictly desk or office rental to below-market rate tech-oriented sites. So, is there coworking in Bethlehem? You bet! We are ahead of the curve as a smaller city that’s already home to several coworking sites.
Sean Fedorko, co-founder of the Erie, Pa., coworking site Radius CoWork, tells us that Philly’s Indy Hall was one of the first cowork sites. Its founder the godfather of coworking. But it’s only been around since 2006! That means in response to the ‘new economy,’ the coworking wave is washing over this whole state, country and world – fast. Are you ready?
Let’s go for a quick tour.
New sites are popping up in Pennsylvania
Lancaster – https://candyissweet.com/ The Candy Factory’s mission is to ‘to foster our community and help spur the growth of small businesses in and around Lancaster City and Lititz …’
Butler – NEW! https://connectworkonmain.com/
Penn State – various locations
Philadelphia – many sites – https://technical.ly/philly/2017/01/05/coworking-spaces-philadelphia/
Pittsburgh – also many sites – http://catapultpgh.org/
College Park http://www.cpes.net/our-spaces/co-working-space/
Doylestown https://www.regus.com/coworking-space/united-states/pennsylvania/doylestown/pennsylvania-doylestown-doylestown (also part of Regus’s extensive network)
There are enough coworking sites in Pennsylvania to now have a Coworking Conference. It’s set for April 26-28 in Lancaster. This will bring us all together under one big coworking roof.
2 kinds of coworking sites in Bethlehem & beyond
There are two kinds of coworking sites out there. Both feature open plan contemporary workspace, conference rooms and shared areas. These include kitchens, lobbies and lounges. Both offer some combination of dedicated desks and ‘hot desks’ (desks that are open for anyone to use), sometimes including ‘drop in’ or ‘day pass’ coworkers.
But some sites emphasize the desk much more than the coworkers. That’s what one local company offers through its extensive holdings. Other sites are run by real estate companies that manage properties for big corporations. Coworking sites help pay the bills and, in some but not all cases, help the holding company understand how people work.
That’s because many private companies are going to the open plan, hot desk approach, minimizing their number of enclosed offices. Under this plan, the boss might be working right alongside entry level employees. Workers might choose to sit in various places from day to day.
The second coworking model is a membership-based organization. Mutual support and synergies lead to benefits: innovation, revitalized neighborhoods and improved bottom lines for coworkers. There are organized networks of organizers of these kinds of sites, and we are connected to one called New Work Cities.
Depending on their individual plans, coworkers might have a dedicated desk (full-time or part-time). Or a hot desk on a full-time, part-time or occasional basis. Others opt for just the conference room privileges. For all, there’s the social capital of having ‘coworkers’ to bounce ideas off of. They might not need a desk at all.
This second, membership-based model is the one we are interested in.
Average price – 7 years ago!
Price per month for membership is a lot better than doing it all yourself. Consider the price of a three-year lease, fitouts, phone lines, photocopiers, and all the rest of what it takes to set up an office in a more traditional arrangement. A coworking desk is less risky, too. The term might be as little as six months or even month to month. However, it depends on the site because plenty require at least one year.
In 2011, the most recent year when the numbers are available, Deskmag found: ‘The most common price category at all spaces worldwide is the permanent desk with 24/7 access. It seems coworkers like having a fixed place to work, whenever they please.’
Note, coworking sites tend to be carefully set up to ensure safety and convenience, another important kind of support for entrepreneurs and independent workers.
This preferred model was also reflected in the Global Coworker Survey, which showed about 55% of coworkers are permanent desk users, adding (again, in 2011): ‘Our latest analysis shows they pay an average of $387 a month in the US, €245 in the Eurozone, and £200 in England. With current exchange rates factored in, the UK appears to be the cheapest place for permanent coworking right now.’ Obviously, this price has gone up in many areas.
‘The second most common price category is that of a flexible desk during business hours. For this option, which involves packing up your things at the end of each day, coworkers pay a monthly average of $195, €189, and £168.’
The New Economy and Demand for Cowork
As Sean of Radius explains in his TEDxErie talk, independent professionals are the fastest growing demographic. Today’s 16M is expected to rise to 70M in the next 10 years. They need operational support, but also want intangibles – collaboration, inspiration, new ideas, new people around them.
These things are possible for onsite employees of companies, but a shift to an entrepreneurial economy is happening now. This is the new economy. More and more companies can’t or don’t want to offer expensive benefits. They seek the flexibility of being able to source exactly the talent they want – only when they want it.
The funny thing is, workers in the new economy tend to love it. They may actually be motivated to work hard so they don’t have to become employees!
Those who are in the new economy aren’t looking back.
Sean of Radius CoWork says, ‘This is how everybody works now.’
There are hundreds of middlemen cropping up to match people with work space. Liquid Space is one of them. Its roles of coworking spaces and desks for rent shows hundreds of properties across the country. More proof of supply to meet the perceived demand! For a cut, they will fill your space and book your extra desks.
People thrive in coworking spaces
Coworking helps its members work better and smarter. A Harvard Business Review article opens with: ‘There seems to be something special about coworking spaces. As researchers who have, for years, studied how employees thrive, we were surprised to discover that people who belong to them report levels of thriving that approach an average of 6 on a 7-point scale. This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices.’
Researchers found several reasons for this: ‘First, unlike a traditional office, coworking spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies, ventures and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in. Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger.’
Second, ‘Second, meaning may also come from working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out, and there are many opportunities to do so; the variety of workers in the space means that coworkers have unique skill sets that they can provide to other community members.’
Third, they’re part of a movement.
Coworking is Global
There’s even a conference on coworking, called the Global Coworking Unconference. As its organizers say, ‘Our heart beats at the intersection of real estate, technology and the future of work, and we’re here to show you what comes next.’
It’s part of a new values system
Values of many coworkers include:
- collaboration over competition
- community over agendas
- participation over observation
- doing over saying
- friendship over formality
- boldness over assurance
- learning over expertise
- people over personalities
- ‘value ecosystem’ over ‘value chain’
Coworking is here to stay
National Real Estate Register reports: ‘The co-working trend is here to stay. Emerging out of the recession, as businesses downsized and out-of-work professionals launched new enterprises, shared workspaces are the perfect fit for small businesses and wildly popular among entrepreneurs. It’s flexible, serviced office space, often with loads of amenities and — best of all — offers a collaborative environment that inspires creativity and innovation … The innovative environment inherent in co-working spaces is one reason many larger companies now place creative staff in co-working spaces across the nation.’
All coworkers and startup companies have to do is show up and plug in.
That same report shows that ‘brand, size and location are the most important ingredients for successful co-working spaces. The exception is spaces that cater to specific industries.’
Who Needs Coworking?
In early 2017, Deskmag reported, ‘More coworking spaces, more members … These basic forecasts for [the coming year] are straightforward. The interesting findings of the Global Coworking Survey, compared with previous years, are once more shown in detail. Things are looking somewhat more restrained in the new year from the perspective of freelance and entrepreneur members. On the other hand, things are strongly looking up for members who are company employees.’
It’s not only Millenials
There might be different drivers for different age groups, but coworkers run the gamut from students to millenials starting up or freelancing to part-time professionals and fifty-somethings remotely located, establishing a presence for a larger company, or starting a business. Then there are the retirees who still want an office to go to or who are starting a business or a non-profit.
We already showed you Liquid Space’s inventory from across the country. There are in fact enough sites that there can even be a top 100 coworking sites in the USA list.
Cowork as a Movement
Deskmag’s 2017 survey also shows, ‘By the end of the year, around 14,000 coworking spaces will be in operation worldwide … Coworking spaces anticipate more members (86%), higher income (81%), more events (71%), and a greater sense of community (84%) in 2017 … There is little difference in outlook between larger and smaller spaces. The younger a coworking space is, the more likely it is to anticipate strong growth in all areas.’
There is even a 10 best coworking spaces on Earth list, published by Forbes magazine.
From Big Cities to Coworking in Bethlehem
Coworking spaces are big in the metropolitan areas, no question. But we wanted to know whether a coworking space could thrive in Bethlehem, a city of 75,293. The short answer: Yes, we are just at the tipping point.
Now for the long answer. We checked out Demographia’s list of cities over 73,000 and under 78,000. There were 22 (though Bethlehem and my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri weren’t on there for unknown reasons). Here’s what we found about whether they offer cowork sites:
Tuscaloosa, Alabama – Yes
Yuma City, Arizona – Yes
Sommerville, Massachusetts – Yep, three! Including http://www.canopy.city/#home1
Lewisville, Texas – Yes
Santa Maria, California – Yes
Ogden, Utah – Yes
Kalamazoo, Michigan – Love the tagline ‘rethink work’! –
Albany, Georgia – Yes
Greeley, Colorado – Lots! – Including http://www.360socius.com/
Scranton, Pennsylvania – Yep, and eyeing Wilkes-Barre
Beaverton, Oregon – Hmm, maybe not.
Arlington Heights, Illinois – Yes!
Wilmington, North Carolina – ‘work.meet.create’ – love it!
Baldwin Park, California – maybe not yet
Davie, Florida – nope
Redwood City, California – lots of choices: https://www.yelp.com/search?cflt=sharedofficespaces&find_loc=Redwood+City%2C+CA
Schaumburg, Illinois – ‘within 40 miles,’ anyway …
Broken Arrow City, Oklahoma — these would be Tulsa’s
Danbury, Connecticut – Yes – at an Innovation Center:
Boca Raton, Louisiana – cool, check this out!
Las Cruces, New Mexico – No, but New Mexico is mobilizing!
Evanston, Illinois – Go Evanston!
Notice that the cowork sites become more sparse as we got below 75,837 (from Baldwin Park on down). So, Bethlehem is ahead of the curve!
How we differentiate our coworking space in Bethlehem
Today, there’s something called a digital nomad. This is a person who can travel anywhere there’s a wi-fi connection and work from that place — Columbia, Bali, anywhere. We know someone who does this. On the other hand, we don’t know this fellow, but he’s travelled the world and reports on cowork sites.
He notes that 60 percent of coworking sites lose money. Sean of Radius wouldn’t disagree. Digital Nomad’s (DN) answer has several parts that sync with what Sean has shared and what we’ve realized we need to do.
First, DN says, most cowork sites are low on differentiation. One is pretty much like another, according to him. Bethlehem has had several sites in operations for a while now, though we certainly wouldn’t agree one is like another, see SoBeCoWorks and Madison Executive Suites.
Next, DN says freelancers don’t want to pay for space. Though we’re not sure that’s true of ALL freelancers (let’s not stereotype, DN!), we like his advice to welcome remotely located employees of large companies or facilitate some other form of synergy or affiliation. Coworking in Bethlehem is an option for them.
Our anchor tenant is set to be an architect. The space is smaller than many out there, a quieter environment to get work done. What would it be like to have various representatives of the design or construction industry, all located together?
Do you notice any synergy with what you are doing? We’d love to hear from you! Click here to contact us.