Coworking is exploding as a popular choice for startups, entrepreneurs, and even larger companies looking for a cost effective “office as a service” model as opposed to locking themselves into long office leases.
Companies such as 42floors.com and Liquidspace.com are becoming valuable resources in the search for more flexible space but once you have a short list, there is still a great deal of due diligence to be done.
In addition to the great advice offered by magazines such as Deskmag.com, there are many important factors beyond flexibility that companies need to consider when selecting a coworking space.
Based on my experience over the past three years as CEO and founder of RocketSpace, a technology campus in downtown San Francisco that provides coworking solutions to tech companies, here are the top 10 things that I believe you should consider:
1. What sort of company are you?
I can’t stress this enough - every coworking space is very different with a unique “vibe” and placing your company in the wrong space could be disastrous.
If you are a freelancer, finding a space with a community of other freelancers could be great.
If you are building a stable services business, then finding a space where there are opportunities to work with other services companies can be beneficial.
If you want to build the next Facebook or Uber, then surrounding yourself with other high-growth tech companies trying to change the world is a really good idea.
The important thing is this: you are a product of your surroundings. You and your staff will be influenced by those around you. If you are trying to build a world-changing technology and you are surrounded by 100 services companies, then you are a prospect to them and they are a distraction to you.
2. What stage is your business?
Very early stage companies have few pressures: no board governance, no investors to please. It is a great time. The pressures start to mount as your business grows.
I once visited a self-declared “frat house for geeks.” It was chaos - it had a ton of energy but it only suited companies at that early stage. As a company grows, it changes. It loses the cult status and starts to build its own culture. That is hard to do in a frat house.
My best advice is to find out who is already in the coworking space and ask yourself, “do these represent the type of companies that I want my company to be in 12 to 18 months?”
3. Location location location
Location is critically important in real estate.
There are a number of coworking options in San Francisco. You need to choose a location that fits your team today and is an attractive option for people you might want to hire in the future.
Many companies choose the location that suits the founders. This is an error. Does it work for commuters? If you want people to work late, are they going to feel safe at night?
4. Consistent connectivity
The number one complaint you will read about coworking spaces online is “inconsistent internet access.”
For most modern companies, not being able to connect to the internet is hugely disruptive. Good connectivity is expensive and many coworking spaces cut corners.
Connectivity tends to go wrong in two key areas: Wi-Fi access and the actual connection.
If you are only offered Wi-Fi access with no hard-wired option then you should be concerned. Wi-Fi tends to work well across coworking spaces but your co-inhabitants can abuse bandwidth to the frustration of all. If there is a hard-wired alternative, this is great. Check that it is included in the price and - to be really safe - ask to see the redundancy documents.
Good coworking spaces should have two internet connections from independent ISP’s and fully-resilient back bone infrastructure with fail over. I guarantee that once you have had two days with no connection, nothing else matters!
Finally, bigger coworking spaces should have onsite tech support. If it is left to the receptionist to reset the router, be warned.
5. Security and access
Access to your workspace 24/7 is essential these days. But it is also good to know who has that access. Theft in coworking spaces is extremely rare but it is good to know who can access what.
6. Pricing and hidden costs
We seem to live in a world of hidden costs that are conveniently left out of sales pitches. Be aware about additional charges for:
- Kitchens and snacks
- Out of hours access
- Internet speed
- Meeting rooms
- Printing and faxing
- Mail handling
- And my favorite: moving in
One of the most important points to consider when selecting a coworking space is the staff.
They keep operations running smoothly and tenants happy. There is nothing more frustrating than having a guest come to a meeting at your office and arrive when the receptionist is at lunch.
Who is keeping the kitchens stocked? Who ensures the printers are working? The larger the coworking space, the more people are needed to provide world-class coverage and services.
One of the best aspects of working in a coworking space is the community.
If you have selected an appropriate community for your business (see 1 and 2 above) then you should be set to go.
But building a community takes effort. Placing a bottle of wine in the kitchen on a Friday night won’t cut it. A good coworking space should be arranging social and community events on a weekly if not daily basis. Get involved! You only get out what you put in.
9. Collaboration and inspiration
Check out your chair! Chances are you are going to be spending a lot of time in it. The height of your desk is also important. Work is not only about plugging away at your desk. Are there other areas in the coworking space to chill and think?
Are there enough meeting rooms for the size of the population? How do you book them? Ask to see last week's booking sheet to see how full they were. Also look for other options like phone booths or private nooks. Often, you don’t want or need to book a conference room to simply have a private conversation. And don't forget to have a good look for collaboration peripherals such as whiteboards, projectors, screens etc.
I am a huge advocate for the growth of coworking around the world and particularly coworking in San Francisco. It frustrates me when people don’t have a great experience. But by asking the right questions, you can find the right coworking space for you and your team.
Want more resources for startups?
Check out our Guide to Getting Media Coverage for Your Startup.