Co-working facilities booming around county

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Co-working commonly defined as the use of an office or other working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers, wherein they often share equipment and ideas — is an area growing exponentially.

According to a new report by JLL, a professional services and investment management company based in Chicago, the number of members using co-working spaces globally has been steadily increasing year on year, and is predicted to reach 1 million by 2018. Citing Deskmag’s 2015 Global Coworking Survey, the report found that 61 percent of co-working space providers are planning to expand their operations, while nearly 80 percent expect their number of members to increase in 2016.

Not surprisingly, there are several spaces dedicated to co-working around Fairfield County, with Stamford being a particular hot spot. The self-defined “city that works” has over the past few years become a hub for web designers, software designers, engineers, graphic artists, startup founders and other entrepreneurs, aided and abetted by the presence of The University of Connecticut Digital Media Center and the Stamford Innovation Center, a co-working space that opened in 2012 in the building that served as Stamford’s original town hall at 175 Atlantic St.

Coming to Stamford in August is Serendipity Labs. Headquartered in Rye, N.Y., Serendipity — which also has locations in midtown Manhattan, Chicago and Ridgewood, N.J. — is in the midst of an expansion that will also include new facilities in Bethesda, Md. (September), Miami (October), Houston (December) and Princeton, N.J. (early 2017).

“One hundred is our milestone number,” said Serendipity Labs CEO John Arenas. “Right now we’re looking to open one a month.”

Stamford was chosen, he said, “as a great anchor for the tristate area. It’s a very supportive market for economic development, and has been very successful in attracting companies — which of course is good for us.”

At 700 Canal St. in Stamford’s Harbor Point district, Serendipity’s 13,000-square-foot location will include a work lounge, lab-cafe, private offices, team rooms and event space. “In addition to the shuttle service to the trains, there are hundreds of residential units being added,” Arenas said. “The redevelopment there has a lot of traction.”

Also in Stamford is Workpoint, a 15,000-square-foot shared-office facility at 290 Harbor Drive on the Long Island Sound — 10 minutes from Interstate 95 and the Stamford train station.

“We have million-dollar views here,” said Sheelah Quinn, sales/general manager, noting that Workpoint’s 1,000-square-foot multi-camera HD production studio — used by such clients as CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and by Charter Communications Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge to announce his company’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable in May — helps differentiate it from its competitors.

“There are a lot of Fortune 500 executives in Fairfield County,” Quinn said. “Instead of having to go to Englewood Cliffs (N.J., where CNBC is headquartered) or New York City, they can come here to do live interviews.”

Taking a somewhat different tack is Comradity at 845 Canal St., where co-founder Katherine Kern prefers the term “shared workspace” to “co-working.”

“Co-working is usually about people working in an open space,” Kern said. Although Comradity has a co-working space, it tends to focus on being the location for corporate off-site meetings and retreats, as well as offering smaller rooms that accommodate up to four people for private client or team meetings.

Common to all such facilities is the concept of clients bouncing ideas off of each other, even if they do not necessarily work in the same industry.

“It really makes for a collaborative environment,” Quinn said. “Most of our members are people looking for new jobs or a second career path. They may feel a disconnect being at home and by themselves. Coming here they can trade ideas, get advice, share their skill sets.”

“The people who join are usually at a point in their career where they can work remotely and be trusted by their company to stay productive,” said Arenas. “From a company point of view, they’re very much looking at strategic reasons to extend their real estate platform while lowering costs. The co-working option helps them remain competitive in attracting and retaining top talent.”

“Companies are increasingly looking for new ways for employees to work together,” Kern said. “We’ve created a new interface, where if a company is having a strategic planning meeting here and are interested, we can introduce them to the people working here to see if their skills and expertise might be relevant to them.”

Reporting similar activity is Maggie Gotterer, general manager at co-working firm B:Hive Bridgeport. “It’s becoming increasingly common for people to work from home,” she said. “Sometimes they need that personal/professional divide … they just had a kid or there’s too much going on at home and Starbucks isn’t doing it as a place to meet clients. Here there’s low overhead, so if you’re a startup with just a couple of employees or it’s just yourself, you can have all this support and equipment without having to lay out for it all.”

Most co-working spaces offer free Wi-Fi and internet, as well as whiteboards, printers, copiers, video conferencing abilities and so on — along with free coffee (and even, sometimes, wine and beer in the afternoon) and other amenities.

Gotterer — who also goes by the title “queen bee” at B:Hive — said the Bridgeport firm’s 2,200-square-foot space at 285 Fairfield Ave. is “very flexible and adaptable to what our members are looking for. We try to be very responsive to their needs.”

Both Comradity and Workpoint regularly schedule lectures, interactive presentations, art shows and other events to underscore the “community” aspect they strive to establish. “We have a college professor who teaches acting,” Comradity’s Kern noted. “He’s come in and led improv exercises, which a lot of companies have found to be a great way to start a planning meeting.”

Needless to say, all this support and material comes at a cost, usually requiring users to buy memberships. Most facilities offer “day passes” for as little as $20, with other arrangements priced accordingly. For example, at Workpoint one can rent an open workstation (first come, first served), assigned workstation or private office for the respective monthly prices of $300, $600 and $1,800 to $3,150. Serendipity Labs offers access to its entire network for $49 to $399 per month, depending on need. At the more casual B:Hive, one can mix with the other workers for $175 per month or $1,750 per year.

All facilities generally offer conference rooms and similar spaces on an à la carte basis, depending on availability.

“It’s all about having a place where you can grow your business with a lot less risk,” said Kern, “and be around other resources that allow you to grow.”

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