WorkZone: Options for what defines workspace have expanded

The coworking movement shows up in places like 21st Street Coffee and Catapult in Garfield.


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As the global movement to shun home offices for co-working spaces grows across the country, options for what defines a workspace have expanded.

Business Insider's January roundup of "The 17 Coolest Co-Working Spaces in America" featured spaces offering users everything from free coffee and Wi-Fi to Xbox-equipped game rooms and freedom to bring pets to the office.

Co-working is the phenomenon of shared work spaces that provide office essentials and the company of other remote workers for a fee.

But what was once a resource used mostly by freelancers, entrepreneurs and off-site corporate employees has become an option for workers with little to no attachment to traditional workplace culture. With 8 percent of co-workers saying they don't fall into any of the above categories, according to online co-working magazine Deskmag's "Global Coworking Survey 2012," even more nontraditional co-working spaces are popping up to meet the demand.

In the Strip District, 21st Street Coffee and Tea owner Lucas Shaffer said he's hoping to see workers of all stripes show up once he spreads word of the co-working space that he's created. Located in the loft of the 2,000-square-foot shop, the space offers office desks and chairs, free Wi-Fi and a 20 percent "employee" discount on food and drinks. Desks can be used daily for $10, weekly for $30 and $100 per month.

Mr. Shaffer said he opened the space to accommodate workers who were regularly setting up shop or hosting meetings inside his store. And with chain coffee shops implementing policies to get Wi-Fi siphoning workers out of their fireside chairs, he believes his open-door policy could attract all sorts of creative thinkers.

"Coffee shops have traditionally been a place of choice because it's not an issue for somebody to buy a couple of drinks and hang out for a while," he said. "I work from home a couple of days a week, and it can get a little boring to be by yourself. Sometimes it's nice to be around people."

Collaboration between co-workers and the surrounding community is the driving force behind Garfield-based Catapult Pittsburgh, according to creator Elliott Williams. The upstart space located in a former Penn Avenue storefront offers a desk, a key and 24-hour access to its 15 users for around $150 a month. The fee, Mr. Williams said, may go down as it attracts more members.

Beyond office equipment, the organization also provides micro-loans through San Francisco-based micro-lending organization Kiva and hosts monthly show-and-tell networking events with entrepreneurs and social organizations from across the region.

Despite the obvious perks, Mr. Williams said the space's best feature by far is the atmosphere created by the diverse group that choose to call it home. With co-workers ranging from software designers and developers to rock bands, there's never a dull moment and opportunities for collaboration often come from unexpected sources.

According to Mr. Williams, who is working to create his legal search Web app LegalSifter, the synergy was by design. "I work for myself, and what I wanted was a community that didn't exist here. A lot of spaces cater more to companies and don't have the social portion," he said.

Alex Leeson-Brown, creator of Web design and consulting company Seahawk Studio, said that laid-back sense of community was what made him choose Catapult over other local co-working spaces.

The native of Nottingham, England, who moved to Pittsburgh in July said he has held relatively relaxed tech jobs his entire career. After Mr. Williams gave him a free "test run" of the space and he saw how closely companies worked together, he was sold.

"Over here everyone helps everyone out. If someone is making coffee, they're making coffee for everyone," he said. "You're not an individual. Even though you are in terms of your company, you feel like you're part of something."

That sense of community often results in an increase in productivity, according to the Deskmag survey. The research found 71 percent of respondents were more creative since joining their co-working space, 68 percent were able to focus better in the new environment and 64 percent could better complete tasks on time.

Considering the fact that 91 percent of co-working space owners expect new members next year, it's only natural to expect more companies to start challenging traditional notions of offices and workers.

businessnews - yourbiz

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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