While the economy putters along at a snail’s pace, it is sometimes hard to see the trees for the forest.
Sure, the economy is tough right now, and it’s easy to get lost in all the economic data and large-scale trends. But if you look, there are opportunities for long term success that will also fill a niche in the current economic maelstrom. One of these, and a really interesting emerging business trend, is coworking space. Coworking space is, essentially, an office in the traditional sense, with a new economy twist, in that the space will be rented by the workers themselves, all of whom may be working on different projects.
Coworking space is a haven for freelancers, job seekers, contractors, and entrepreneurs who need all the conveniences of a traditional office (land lines, IT support, fax machines, meeting/conference rooms, mail services, and, for pete’s sake, a break room!). For one reason or another, these folks prefer not to work from home, and pay a small fee to become a member of the coworking facility. The economy is turning more and more toward independent work, contract work, and disconnected workers. Coworking space creates a community for these folks, and is, by its very nature, a green business.
According to Sasha Vasilyuk, cofounder of Sandbox Suites, a coworking space in San Francisco that recently became a certified green business with the city, “a coworking space unites many independent workers under one roof, where they can share resources and thus consume and waste less than if they were working from their own homes or big offices. Having one printer or coffee machine for several dozen people is much more sustainable.”
So could you start a coworking facility? A quick Google search will let you know if there are other coworking facilities in your area, and if so, how much they charge and for what services.
Finding an office building to rent or buy shouldn’t be difficult in this economy. Many small businesses have shut down, downsized, or relocated in the past six months, opening up lots of commercial space.
The best marketing, according to Vasilyuk, is hosting events that might attract freelancers, such as free consulting workshops for entrepreneurs, as well as posting flyers in coffee shops where many independent workers hang out, and posting ads online on sites like Craigslist. Hosting a Freelancer Meetup group will also tie you into the local freelancer community.
A few other easy adjustments to a traditional business model help make Sandbox Suites a darker shade of green: they use recycled paper products, provide filtered water to eliminate any incentive for people to buy bottled water, compost, offset 100% of their electricity usage with renewable energy credits, and collect e-waste for recycling.
The last element that is a crucial part of coworking space is the community. Freelancers and other independent workers frequently lament the loss of social interaction with office-mates. A coworking space creates that community, where people can regularly interact with office mates, regardless of whether they’re actually working together. And community, according to Bill McKibben (author of Deep Economy), is a crucial building block to a sustainable future that is increasingly being lost to our hyper-individualistic society.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday, the green economy will simply be referred to as…the economy.