Coworking. Accelerators. Virtual offices. The nature of work is changing rapidly, and the communities built around these new workplaces are growing just as quickly.
WeWork announced this week that it will double its presence in the Seattle region. Seattle-based coworking company The Riveter is about to open a fifth location less than 18 months after its initial launch. Impact Hub has more than 100 locations globally. ATLAS Workbase, Thinkspace, the Collective, Create33 … the list is literally growing larger by the month.
So how are these spaces impacting the way we work? What’s their role in fostering startup communities? Can the startup market support all of the spaces being built? And is there a future for spaces that blend work and living?
We address those questions and more on our latest Week In Geek podcast, featuring Amy Nelson, founder and CEO of The Riveter, and Sarah Studer, the managing director of Impact Hub Seattle. We recorded this episode in front of a live audience during our meetup Thursday evening at the NeighborHub at Columbia Bank in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Listen to the full episode in the player below or subscribe in your favorite podcast app, and continue reading for highlights.
Today’s coworking craze is a relatively new phenomenon.
“Coworking five years ago wasn’t something that everybody knew about. It’s still relatively new to some people,” Studer said. But once people get to know the idea, “that’s a whole different story. What are the possibilities? They’re really endless.”
For those unfamiliar, coworking locations rent out desk and office space to a variety of members, like early-stage startups and remote workers. Some coworking spaces offer closed offices, but many are open plan and encourage collaboration and community building between members.
Like The Riveter and Impact Hub, coworking spaces often actively work to build community by hosting speakers, workshops and other events, and many work to fill a niche. The Riveter is focused on female members and making a space that is inclusive for all genders. The Riveter has locations in Seattle and Southern California, and its fifth will be in Bellevue, Wash. About 25 percent of its members are male. Impact Hub Seattle, part of a global network of Impact Hub locations, is geared towards people and companies working on social impact projects.
And all these companies are attracting a lot of attention. WeWork, the biggest player in the space by sheer size, raised a whopping $1 billion earlier this year. The Riveter, which Nelson said is growing faster than WeWork did during its early years, has already raised $5 million.
Nelson and Studer said there’s a reason behind the hype and money flowing into the industry: These spaces really work.
“There is something to being able to turn to somebody and ask them a question and be able to collaborate and interact in that way,” Studer said, adding that ImpactHub employees work in an open area of the location’s office space. “We’re able to pull in our members when we’re stuck on a particularly sticky point… and we’ve gotten some of our best ideas from being able to do that.”
Studer said that approach does more than generate good ideas: It also helps grow the community around the physical location.
“That also helps the community feel a bit more ownership in the space, too. They know what we’re going through, they’re supporting us,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to build this by ourselves, we need them to help us do it and help us realize it for everybody.”
As for people who are skeptical of the idea, Nelson said there’s actually data that backs up Studer’s point.
“The science proves that you can do more, that you’ll collaborate more, interact more and you’ll get more done,” in an open office space, Nelson said.
It is a challenge to adjust to, but the benefits of coworking are real, she said — as is the community.
“We have the workspace, but we also have real and true community gatherings,” Nelson said. “We’ve also started to experiment with retail… or bringing in events. Bringing in all of these different opportunities so you can do all of these things in one place.”
Some coworking companies, including WeWork, have begun to experiment with new spaces that integrate coworking spaces with more affordable shared living, all in the same building.
“The part that creeps me out, and that I’m not super excited about, is to live where I work,” Studer said. “I just don’t see that being attractive for very long, to be able to live upstairs, work downstairs, go to the gym on floor 3 and be able to go to your Amazon Go,” Studer said. One of her colleagues likens the idea to living in a “tricked-out” hamster cage.
Nelson agreed that co-living and coworking in the same building is a bit much, but also pointed out the idea could find a different home. “I tend to think of the way that co-living will work is it might be the people working at the larger tech companies that need a cheaper living option, not people working in the coworking spaces,” she said.
Even without co-living, though, coworking communities can easily become isolated, much like large corporations. Nelson and Studer said they are working to counter that trend.
“I work really hard to make sure that our members actually know what’s in our community — so what’s going on outside of ImpactHub, what’s happening in our neighborhood, so they can get out and they can experience all the awesome stuff that Pioneer Square has to offer,” Studer said, referring to ImpactHub’s home neighborhood in Seattle.
Nelson said The Riveter also works to do this, partly by partnering with large corporations to let their employees use The Riveter’s resources and attend their events. Nelson said this is particularly important for female employees.
“If you’re not talking to people from other companies or in other industries, you don’t know if you’re being impacted by the pay gap,” she said. “You don’t know if your company culture is treating women the way that it should.”
Check out the full podcast and video above, and see highlights from the meetup.