In Outright’s ongoing series about coworking, we continue on our journey looking at the most innovative coworking spaces around the globe. Last month we talked to Liz Elam about coworking in Austin at Link Coworking who showed us how the future of coworking spaces is evolving. This month we are back on the east coast in the city of Boston and we caught up with Bill Jacobson the Managing Director of Workbar. We discuss how they got their start, how they have evolved the Workbar space and what the future holds for the coworking space. Here is the transcript of our interview:
1.) When did you start to explore the idea of starting a coworking space?
A few years ago my partner Dave Ulrich and myself started investigating coworking space concepts in Boston. At the time, Boston had limited options without much diversity and often included collaborators from the same industry who decided to share office space to save money. Meanwhile, we noticed two significant trends that continued to change the way people view the workplace – first, telecommunications made it increasingly possible for people to work from virtually anywhere and second, more people where working for themselves or in small teams.
In the summer of 2009 we decided to open WorkBar in Boston in an existing office space we occupied near South Station. The initial goal of this experiment was to see what type of people we would draw, how broad or narrow the range of industries among them varied and whether or not proximity to the office played a large role in membership demographics. Over the first six months we happily found that people came from both all over the greater Boston area and from a very diverse set of industries.
As our membership grew we saw that people liked the WorkBar concept and vibe of our office, however, our space at the time was not ideal. When our current space, which was even closer to South Station and had better building access became available, we moved our operations and with as little disruption as possible, opened our doors at our current 711 Atlantic Avenue location. We have been growing the WorkBar community and space ever since. In the beginning of 2011 we completed a physical expansion doubling the size of our workspace and improving the layout and opportunities for larger meetings and events.
2.) What process did you go through to arrive at your current space design and business model?
WorkBar has gone through three iterations in its space design – our initial experiment on South Street, our move to 711 Atlantic Ave, and most recently, our expansion of the 711 Atlantic location. Along the way we’ve always had an open policy of communication with our members and have listened to their feedback carefully. With each workspace iteration, we’ve made changes to reflect the shared demands of our diverse membership.
Our main goal when designing our work space has always been to create a place that has the energy of a raw start-up but the professionalism of a fully functioning and managed workspace. Collaboration is a central theme of our workspace – which is conveyed through our open space layout furnished with a variety of single desks, shared high and low work surfaces, café tables and 2-3 person comfy armchairs. Surrounding this open area are spaces for people to make private phone calls, a few private offices, multiple conference rooms and collaborative couch settings used as both work and meeting areas.
WorkBar operates on a membership-based model. Similar to a gym, people sign-up for monthly WorkBar memberships ranging in access from 1-2 days a week to 24/7 access with a private office option topping our available memberships. We strive to keep memberships affordable and allow our members to ‘dial in’ as much or as little office space access as they need. Our membership rates range from $75/month for part time access to $1000/ month for private office space. All of our memberships include free coffee, snacks, wifi (of course!) and an opportunity to collaborate and contribute at our networking and social events such as our monthly business or new member mixers. As we grow, we continue to expand our services to provide members with shared versions of common company needs such as administrative services, bookkeeping services and IT support.
3.) How do you differentiate your coworking space from others in your local community?
WorkBar has a very diverse community of members ranging from tech to marketing to law and even fashion design, among many others. Unlike many shared spaces which function more like silos for one specific industry, we find great value in the diversity of our membership which has led to new and referral business, barter arrangements, and of course, a wealth of resources for our member community which continues to grow organically through member interactions.
Our location is also crucial – we are located in a prime part of Boston which is easily accessible by public transportation by local and suburban members. The space is professionally staffed and managed during business hours, which is a differentiating factor from many spaces around Boston and beyond.
4.) What kinds of businesses are currently utilizing your space? Are there any you would like to highlight?
Our member companies vary in size from 1-10 people per company and industries ranging from tech, web design, graphics, mobile, cinematography, law, fashion, marketing/pr, social media, etc. Many of these companies are complimentary which perpetuates the creation of business from within!
5.) What is your view on the current coworking movement? How do you see it evolving over the next few years?
The two trends WorkBar was founded around continue to become more and more powerful: more people can work from anywhere and more people are choosing to work for themselves. As these trends continue, the need for shared workplaces increases. By the very nature of people and their need for social interaction, people that do work from home or for themselves benefit from collaboration, camaraderie and a professional environment outside of their home. Coworking spaces such as WorkBar, that strive to meet these needs, will continue to grow in size, number and acceptance.
Pricing and Flexibility of Space
Workbar Boston has fairly straightforward pricing program. As Bill mentioned above in the interview, you can start with the daily option at $25 a day but they are focused on long term commitments and have a great started option for $75 a month that gets you part-time access to the space during the day. This is a big competitive advantage to other spaces that start at twice that for a few days a week. They also have dedicated desks and dedicated offices for businesses who are growing and might not want to leave the space and need more privacy.