Image from Pixaby
More than 24 million businesses in the U.S. have less than five employees and few support systems exist for aspirational owners. Enter Room2work, a shared office and warehouse space specifically designed for non-digital businesses who have outgrown their home office or garage. The thoroughly modern coworking space in suburban Atlanta combines digital mail service, warehouse, office and a podcast studio in one place. Room2work fills a gap in commercial real estate for startups to look professional, stay agile and scale without breaking the bank. As a flexible and cost-effective alternative to large commercial warehouses and multi-year commercial leases, Room2Work is disrupting and pivoting to adapt to the ‘new normal.’ We interviewed Room2Work founder Alan Crowe about the future of coworking, entrepreneurship and why business owners can benefit from dedicated office spaces.
Is it possible for coworking to survive this pandemic?
Absolutely! But the business model is going to continue to change. What we think of a “traditional” coworking (large community work area for freelancers) has been evolving for years. There are still a lot of open workspaces, but increasingly coworking operators are offering private team spaces with smaller coworking areas, and COVID is likely to accelerate that trend.
Our space opened in January. We’ve had strong interest in office space, our warehouse is currently full, but very few people are asking about co-working memberships. We have seen an increased interest in virtual offices as businesses start or move home. A virtual office gives freelancers and micro-entrepreneurs a commercial mailing address with access to the workspace and meeting rooms a-la-carte.
Survival means providing a real ROI for their members and being more than a social place to work. Members have to get something from their space that exceeds the cost of their membership, or they won’t stay. This member “churn” is a core problem for locations that fail.
Are in-person meetings gone for good?
Not at all. I know it’s hard to imagine calm while we are inside the hurricane, but we are social creatures, and people have already started coming back for in-person meetings. We have an event planner in our space that has someone in almost every day. I think the key is trust and the comfort that comes with it. The event planner signed up after I started explaining that we changed the AC filter system to a hospital-grade version capable of catching particles 1/3 of a human hair. She felt that if we did that, we covered the other details too.
Are trends moving towards dedicated office spaces and away from open office concepts during the pandemic?
More dedicated space has been the trend for years, and It’s very likely to accelerate as a result of COVID. Coworking spaces can be loud, and people like the privacy of a door. Some of the offices are very small (5’x6’ – 30sqft) with barely enough room for the door to open and close, but they have a door and a lock. The architectural design guide for coworking includes a lot of glass walls, so these micro offices are quite as bad as the dimensions make them sound.
How is your business, Room2Work, adapting to the “new normal”?
Our business is dependent on people feeling comfortable with us as their office. The minimum first step was meeting the state and CDC cleaning guidelines for office space, but we also looked at what could be done and added those items to our plan as well. For members, the idea of a safe place to work supersedes the need for an available place to work.
We are also adjusting our business plan to rely less on traditional coworking and more on virtual offices. Economic downturns have a history of spawning new companies with over half of the Fortune 500 companies starting during a down market.
Many people have lost jobs or had hours cut due to COVID-19. This has resulted in a rise in “side hustles” and entrepreneurship. What should would-be entrepreneurs know about starting a business during the pandemic?
I’m a strong believer in side hustles. Several of the businesses at R2W started as a side hustle and are now full time.
Having a good idea for a business isn’t the hard part. Sticking with it through the learning phase is the hard part, but use what you learn to pivot if you need to.
Get irritated and take notes. If you’re bothered by a lack of service or product, there is a good chance other people are as well, and it could be a business.
Save half your money. No matter what you think it will take to start a business, it can probably be done for half. Starting with half will force you to be more creative, but you’ll spend less on the “education” phase. Once you learn your customer, your product, your supplier, and all the things you did wrong, you’ll still have money to take advantage of your new-found expertise.
From a coworking standpoint, a virtual office is a great way for a side hustle to grow without looking like a home-based business. A PO Box or UPS mailbox is cheaper but they lack the amenities and presence of a real office. Most virtual office spaces also include their members in community events and classes.
For individuals who run their own businesses, what are the benefits of having a dedicated office space away from home?
There are a lot of lists where people tackle this topic, but a benefit for one owner isn’t necessarily a benefit for another. Here is my top 5.
Focus – This is my personal favorite. I’m not a fan of the 40-hour workweek and would rather work toward getting essential things done instead of working a set number of hours. Having dedicated space where you can focus on your top 3 items for the week can eliminate distractions and add free time to your day. To further support this belief R2W created a separate WiFi network called Focus that blocks out all social media for the members that choose it. If you know funny cat videos are your weakness, now you can login and get stuff done.
Image – Long before co-working, the first shared offices gave lawyers, accountants, and consultants a professional image. That still true today. Meeting in a real office or real conference room will create client trust faster than the most beautiful Starbucks.
Team space – Once your company starts becoming more than one person (full or part-time), the benefit of an office begins to rise. Even if you’re not in the office every day, it becomes your spot for collaboration and coordination. The alternative would be having coworkers in your house, and that can have very negative effects.
Turning off – Having an office creates a “hard-line” between work and personal life. You’re emotionally able to say “I’m done” and leave work at work. If you’re prone to overworking, or let work interfere with personal relationships, this alone can make a dedicated office worthwhile.
Self-image – The benefits of this one are all internal, but how you feel about your businesses will change how you run it. If you want to grow a business, you have to run it like a business. That doesn’t mean office = business, but it will help reinforce your goals.
Coworking office bonus
Community – Having a dedicated office in a coworking space puts you in the company of other business owners. Their hustle will inspire your hustle, and you’ll even feel mildly accountable to the group—kind of like having a gym partner to help pull you out of bed on bad days.