Coworking in MSP: A History, Checklist and Review
Coworking has lost its hyphen, or at least most camps are leaning this way including coworking spaces. Eventually AP Style will cave. It has too. Coworking is a legit movement that needs to be shared and hyphens don't really work well with hashtags.
A History in Coworking From a Coworker's Perspective
When I learned of the concept of coworking in its mainstream form it was 2012. Indy Hall in Philadelphia (established in 2006), as described by founder Alex Hillman was alive and well on the east coast, but would it fly in the Twin Cities?
I wanted it to. As timing would have it, 2012 was the year I started my consulting business. For two years (2012-14), I worked from home and coffee shops. I ruminated way too much. I afternoon-napped. I got into a crazy sleep/work schedule. I may or may not have showered until noon. On the upside, I saw more of my kids, worked out when I wanted and thrived balancing work and creative endeavors that had been suppressed for a least a decade.
When winter 2014-15 began to roll around, CoCoMSP (@explorecoco) was in full swing with three locations in the MSP area: St. Paul, Uptown and downtown Minneapolis. I was facing a winter of low-energy and napping so I took the tour of the Uptown location in December 2014 and joined as a five day/month member, able to use any of their locations. My go-to location that winter was Uptown. I wondered if five days a month would allow me to find benefits like business leads, more structure, connectedness to individuals and community and an infusion of get-it-done energy.
Fast-forward three years. I'm still on the five day/month plan, which essentially means always Wednesdays and one floater day per month for me. I'm now typically at the downtown Minneapolis location because the energy there just works for me (plus, I've finally figured out how to navigate the skyway from CoCo's Grain Exchange Building location in the NE quadrant of downtown). Structuring one day of coworking was enough to guide my calendar for the week and give me an infusion of energy midweek. I connected with fellow CoCoNutz (as they're affectionately called) on CoCo's membership site for consulting work opportunities -- some of which turned into short-term clients and others longer-term relationships.
But being a solo consultant meant that many days I didn't have a meaningful conversation with anyone. It's worth noting that I was so focused on my own work that I didn't seek out conversation. I was simply enjoying the space as a quieter and less disruptive environment than a coffee shop (with the exception of the occasional background barking during conference calls at dog-friendly locations) and a less distracting environment than my home, where there was always something pressing to tend to for the self-starter who seeks a moment of procrastination.
It wasn't until summer 2017 that I began to use my coworking space to collaborate with another consultant. That's when a deeper meaning of coworking revealed itself. Coworking became more than just a space to set up camp for the day and be laser-focused on my laptop. It became more about an experience in collaborating with someone else --multiple collaborators or connectors for that matter -- while in the space.
Just as this idea started to gel for me, several new coworking spaces opened or announced early 2018 openings in the Twin Cities. In addition to CoCo, one of the top locally-based coworking communities, now there's WeWork in the Capella Tower, Industrious HQ and now Amsterdam-based Spaces, coming to the North Loop (see Twin Cities Business Magazine's January 2018 article here) and a whole host of options.
A Coworking Community Checklist
With so many options, how does one decide what space is right for them? I'd suggest considering this checklist:
1. Coworking community ownership: What type of coworking community best suits your style? From hyper-local, local, national, international -- all of these distinctions mean different types of support, connectivity and access. For example, multiple locations nationally for people who travel for work, or robust apps like WeWork's that function as an ideal way for consultants to get short and long term work and clients.
2. Location: How close is your coworking space(s) in proximity to your home and clients? What type of transit are you planning to use? What about access to other amenities, fitness facilities, restaurants, parking?
3. Environment: What type of space do you seek to work in? Is it a low key, relaxed neighborhood space or downtown office tower high-energy space? Design-wise, many coworking spaces offer a suite of different settings to support private conference calls, two-three person conversations, quiet zones, zones that are okay for a phone conversation, conference rooms and events.
4. Intention: What is your intention for joining? Do you simply want to work at a non-coffee shop space or get out of your house? Do you have collaborators or are you part of a business or organization whose needs are broader and deeper? I'm always reminded of the vast reasons why people come to a coworking space and quite frankly, that's what keeps working in those spaces so interesting and refreshing in my opinion. The best way to find out what types of people are in any coworking space you're considering is to ask your tour guide or spend a day onsite.
5. Work/life Connectedness: In addition to just being able to accomplish work, what others areas of your life could use some support or an infusion of accountability and passion? Competitive coworking spaces offer an increasing number of additional benefits from book clubs to events like lunch and learns and getting to know your coworkers; to yoga classes and writing workshops. Incorporating these benefits and experiences into daily life is invaluable on so many levels!
6. Cost, Contract Requirements and Your Schedule: What you are you willing to pay monthly and what would an anticipated monthly schedule for coworking use look like for you? Depending on scale and offerings, monthly costs I've researched for unlimited access start at $165 and go up from there. FYI - many new coworking spaces are offering founder member deals (The Coven MPLS, Modern Well and The Impact Hub (opening April 2018)). Contract details widely vary. For less than unlimited access term contracts, some spaces require you to use a full day even if you're only there for a few hours, others let you use space in more flexible, smaller increments. Oh and the coffee must be on point.
#MSP Coworking Spaces Review
Here's a breakdown of some of the Twin Cities spaces I'm familiar with and the types of offerings and communities you'll find there.
CoCoMSP (explorecoco): Four MSP locations (downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul, Northeast Minneapolis and Uptown), each with their own unique vibe. Over the past three years, I have coworked at each location and grown to appreciate the variety each space offers. The community is highly tech, developers and start-up based and has solopreneurs and consultants as well as larger companies who have reserved spaces called campsites. CoCo supports local entrepreneurs and companies while their size and community interests allow them access to larger tech and entrepreneur specific companies like Google and communities and insider-info from groups like Google for Entrepreneurs.
The Coven MPLS (thecovenmpls): Local love is abound in this four-founder new coworking space for women only in the North Loop! I toured with founders Erinn Farrell and Bethany Iverson on December 22 in this historic building in the midst of being thoughtfully renovated by Christian Dean Architecture. I appreciated the careful thought to a welcoming and staffed small entrance on street level as well as the coworking spaces on two floors of the building's upper levels which support intimate to collaborative work styles with intentional design that will allow them to host events in a more public and community-based way. When it comes to wellness, they're throwing in a free month at Alchemy. These women have some amazing partnerships and I can't wait to see them open their doors!
The Impact Hub (minneapolis.impacthub): Currently in the North Loop with an amazing new space and move coming up April 2018 on the top floor of Finnegan's House in Elliot Park (SE downtown Minneapolis). I was immediately intrigued by the connectedness to local entrepreneurship and an international community, all rooted in equity, diversity and inclusion. As Impact Hub in Minneapolis expands, social enterprise will continue to be at the forefront, but it will be amplified. There will be connectivity between The Impact Hub and Finnegan's that supports a crucial support system for start-ups from idea generation to funding to reality and business growth.
Modern Well (modernwell): Newly opened January 2, 2018, Modern Well, by founder Julie Burton has a local, wellness, women and writing offering that is an ideal fit for what I seek! She nailed the concept of multi-faceted offerings that busy, entrepreneurial women want. Parking onsite is free and easy, wellness in their spa and yoga studio are available onsite and they're building out a juice bar with future amenities of dinners to-go for families. It's attracting makers, wellness-oriented entrepreneurs and writers with a local presence. If interested, check out one of their Friday tours here.
WeWork (wework.minneapolis): Three floors in the new Capella Office Tower in downtown Minneapolis. Gorgeous space. I checked this out during October's Twin Cities StartUp Week and met several people while there for the day. I loved the founder's story and inspirational way of making work directly connect to peoples' passions. WeWork also connects wellness to the work environment - they offer Wellness Wednesdays on site. The WeWorkers I chatted with raved about WeWork's app and the ability to use their membership nationally. I sensed very high energy at this location and a openness to conversation. Note that parking is expensive compared to other coworking locations ($22/day in the ramp that's connected).
There are many more! If you're serious about joining one, I'd suggest touring a variety of options all within a 1-2 week window (a June 2017 list is here and to that I'd add the spaces above and anahatacollaborative in Uptown) and assessing the six-point checklist above. Many coworking spaces offer a way to test them out so be sure to take advantage of those or just find a friend already working there and shadow them for the day!
I'm excited to see new models of collaboration and coworking in the Twin Cities as the future of work evolves. It was a freeing moment to realize that I could, in theory, belong to more than one coworking space as I see how 2018 unfolds for me. In particular, I'm interested in wellness correlation into workspaces, supported entrepreneurship and mid to large size for and non-profits coming together in these spaces for unique collaborations and social good ventures. It's definitely out there to be had in the Twin Cities!
-- Cheers to a 2018 of awesome coworking experiences in MSP!