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Workers United

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



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"We can't tell you how or when it's going to happen, but it will," says Newell. "We're starting to see all kinds of interesting people, and they're starting to work together." Newell tells the story of two members, a sport-board enthusiast and a wine exporter who've embarked on a joint project and are now "joined at the hip."

"It's more flexible than the traditional office space," says Kari Danskin, North Bay iHub's office manager. Like most cowork businesses, there's a room with a printer, fax machine and mail system. Donated cubicles and long, wide tables make up the workspace. A few casual chairs and tables are available for informal meetings, and a flat-screen TV displays the latest Wall Street statistics on a ticker.

On the day that I visit the Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project (SEP), a small cowork space located in the bowels of the United Methodist Church, Santa Rosa resident Jared White is deeply focused on his new business, a self-serve web-publishing platform. White says that he looked at a few different cowork spaces and settled on this one because of the location and price. The ability to work outside the home has made him more productive and has even resulted in collaboration with another coworker, he says.

"There's a feeling of being part of a tribe, even if you just get to know someone a little bit," explains White. "It's like, 'Hey, I'm trying to run a business and you're trying to run a business, and we're all in this big pond together.' People who are self-employed can feel really isolated and disconnected, and coworking is a solution to that."

Kathleen Shaffer, a Sebastopol City Council member and one of the founders of SEP, says that the idea initially came from David Hehman of the North Bay Angels, a group of executives and professionals that supports entrepreneurship.

"He said, I don't understand why you don't have some kind of incubator, cowork space in Sebastopol, because you have lots of people working out of their homes. And we do—we have lots of entrepreneurs, lots of small businesses and lots of ideas floating around out there," says Shaffer.

Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project offers monthly classes and discussion groups on topics like Quickbooks and time management. Classes are held at the O'Reilly Media headquarters. Shaffer says that since the space opened in July 2011, they've attracted fewer flexible day-workers and more clientele with serious business ideas and a need for long-term, affordable office space.

A key to coworking success is building a community that goes beyond the idea of work. Like SEP, WORK in Petaluma not only offers classes but also happy hour mixers, where members can get to know each other more casually over Moscow Mules and music on the stereo. The Share Exchange provides free business mentoring on certain days of the week and classes on the legal and financial aspects of owning a small business.

Programs and events are a huge factor in the success of a coworking space, says Genevieve DeGuzman. And really, collaboration and community truly do transform work from drudgery into fun. It's a new way of looking at how to work, in the midst of a tech revolution that has freed many former "desk jockeys" from the traditional office space.

"It's great for people seeking to get out of the hermetic enclosures of their homes, who need to be around people to work and want to plant roots in a community of fellow entrepreneurs," says DeGuzman. "Coworking is really about getting away from the old model of working and looking at work and life more collaboratively. Great ideas come out of the churn of working alongside others."


Coworking in the North Bay

WORK Petaluma

Membership rates run $125 to $375 monthly; day pass, $20. Members have 24/7 access; meetings rooms available for rent. 10 Fourth St., Petaluma. 707.721.6540.

The Share Exchange

Membership rates, $100–$400 for a private office; day passes for $20. Access for members is 24/7; meeting room rentals. 533 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 707.583.7667.

North Bay iHub

Membership rates run from $175–$300 monthly; $15 day pass. Full members have 24/7 access; meeting room rentals available. 1300 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park. 707.794.1240.

Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project

Membership rate is $130 for long-term monthly rental; day pass, $7. Members have 24/7 access. 500 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.829.0669.

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