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Workers United

Coworking: where 'do-it-yourself' becomes 'do-it-together'



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"The biggest thing that I found out is how productive I am in that setting," says Tusler. "For me, it's not about doing the dishes or doing the gardening at home that distracts me. There's just something about being at home that makes it hard for me to get into that hardcore work mode."

The challenges to keeping a space going are economics, getting the word out and getting people in the door, Tusler says, adding that it can be a hurdle for people to leave their home office because then they have to admit that something, somewhere, is lacking. "It's a major commitment, because it's a shift in how you see who you are and how you work," he says.

Once the jump is made into a more communal space, the results seem to turn coworkers into evangelists for the cause. Ralph Scott, a book editor who became a member at WORK in Petaluma when it opened in July 2012, says that his productivity has gone up at least 35 percent.

"If someone is dealing with a work-related problem or creative hold-up, you've got a brain trust in here that can probably figure it out," says Scott.

Barry Stump, 35, lives in Petaluma with his wife and kids. He's a mobile app developer whose most recent project, Smart Ride, was crowned by Time magazine as one of the 50 best iPhone Apps for 2012.

Stump says that after struggling to be productive in his home office, and suffering the social isolation of not getting out of the house much, the coworking experience has been a refreshing change. "It's been nice to get up, go somewhere else and get my work done."

COFFEE BREAK Among the benefits of coworking is the opportunity to bounce one's ideas off of other professionals in different fields. - MICHAEL AMSLER
  • Michael Amsler
  • COFFEE BREAK Among the benefits of coworking is the opportunity to bounce one's ideas off of other professionals in different fields.

Inspiration from other WORK members is another plus. Stump describes how a woman who was working on a location-based mobile gaming company wandered in one day; she was tired of working out of coffee shops. He ended up getting into a discussion with her about her project, learning new concepts along the way.

"It's really cool, the stuff that people are working on," says Stump. "And occasionally, something will come up that I have knowledge about and I can say, 'Here, let me help you.'"

Kelly Rajala of the Share Exchange, a cowork/small business incubator in downtown Santa Rosa with about 20 active members, says that it's been a slow go for the North Bay to embrace the idea of working outside the home.

"We're at the beginning stage," says Rajala. "It's hard to be at the beginning of the curve."

Still, Rajala maintains faith that coworking will pick up speed. By press time, the Share Exchange coworking space will have expanded next door into a 3,000-square-foot location formerly home to the Exchange Bank's auditing department. It will boast three conference rooms, private offices for rent and more dedicated desk space.

Rajala says that the expansion opens up possibilities for current members, which include graphic designers, an economist, a civil engineer, a sustainability consultant, a fiction writer, a venture capitalist and leaders from the North Bay Organizing Project—a list of talents that could very well change the world. It will also allow for the development of new memberships; she'd like to see the number rise to 50.

While some remain attached to working at home, people can be more productive when they change scenery, says Rajala. "It's definitely more productive and more focused," she explains. "They save money since coworking is less expensive than renting an office space. It provides great networking. People form new relationships. They make new business contacts."

Another possibly unforeseen benefit of coworking is the promise of "accelerated or planned serendipity." That's something Michael Newell, the outgoing executive director at North Bay iHub, sees quite often at the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster coworking space.

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