Lori Bryan saw a giant “Cowork Waldo” sign for desk rentals and knew she had found a home for the business she was operating out of her Brookside home.
By TRACI ANGEL
Special to The Star
Now she takes a short commute to the office she shares with others, who are working with their own businesses, at the new location at 7449 Broadway, on the northeast corner of 75th Street and Wornall Road.
Bryan likes having access to a conference room and, perhaps most importantly, “a certain level of professionalism that comes with having an ‘office.’ ” Both are certain to be assets as she launches a new business geared to helping companies organize themselves and improve performance.
A move like Bryan’s to a community office space is a modern solution for the self-employed person or small business that needs space, but prefers inexpensive overhead.
The advantages of coworking desk — such as a conference room, printer and a business address — come without leases or contracts. And there are intangible benefits such as networking, group problem-solving and social interaction at work.
“One of the benefits of co-working is that it spurs collaboration,” Cowork Waldo founder and president Melissa Saubers said.
Filling a niche
Cowork Waldo’s creation is a story about Saubers’ quest to find space for her own employees.
For four years she’s had a marketing and communications company, Saubers Communication Group. She had hired two employees and they had been reporting to Saubers’ house for work. But she would spot dishes in the sink and other domestic distractions and think, “Maybe, this isn’t the best work environment,” she said.
“There’s just a difference going to an office.”
As a social media specialist, Saubers took to the Internet. She found an international movement in coworking where the emphasis was going away from the home, and away from the coffeehouse.
“They were places to meet business partners where you don’t have to pay overhead of a full office, but still get all the benefits,” she said.
The idea took form in a short time. Saubers started investigating the plan last August and signed a lease for the space in late October. She marks Feb. 1 as the official opening.
Saubers put thought into the design. A brightly colored kitchenette with coffee greets visitors at the top of the entrance stairs. Bright blues and greens grace the walls and furniture. Blue is the color of productivity and focus, Saubers said.
The collaboration corner includes swiveling, high-backed “George Jetson” chairs for informal meetings. A telephone room allows someone to make a private call. A conference room comes with a large screen TV that can be connected to a computer for meetings.
Saubers shifts to business speak when talking about her approach.
“The vision is to be a small-business, entrepreneurial incubator and a supporter of small businesses … and to provide a nice, quiet, distraction-free focused environment to get work done with all the tools they need,” she said.
The space has a capacity for 26 people with eight dedicated desks for the monthly rentals, two that Saubers’ employees now occupy. Space also is available for 18 daily drop-ins.
The coworking idea is growing as people find themselves in a nontraditional working situation yet miss or need that office atmosphere, Saubers said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 1 in 9 workers are self-employed. Another figure from the bureau shows that nearly 24 percent of the workforce telecommutes at least a few hours each week from home.
Deskmag, a magazine dedicated to coworking, contractors and small companies, counted more than 1,300 coworking spaces worldwide in 2012, with that number expected to increase this year.
Kansas City already has a handful of similar coworking locations.
Dave Teeman, creator of Innovation Café downtown, which moved April 1 from the Crossroads, credits NextSpace in Santa Cruz as providing an example for coworking spaces. The California organization was one of the coworking innovators and offers everything from mailbox space at $50 a month to full-on office space for $2,000 monthly.
Teeman created the nearly two-year-old Innovation Café the same way Saubers did: to fill a need for his own business. Teeman has another job and has a few subordinates who needed office space. The group that Innovation Café acquired has outgrown the current location, so the business moved to a larger space at 111 W. 10th St.
The group is expanding to include other membership levels, the phrasing that Teeman uses to explain the people who pay for coworking. The new location provides access to a gym, swimming pool and private phone booths.
“The future is not only to have a great office, but great networking and ideas,” he said.
The group is celebrating its two-year anniversary in June and claims members from Liberty, Lawrence and St. Louis.
People come in and have conversations and “look forward to going to work,” Teeman said.
Another coworking space that has become an entrepreneurial breeding ground is bizperc. Herb Sih and Tyler Prochnow founded the Crossroads organization three years ago and now about 15 companies and 40 to 60 people go to work there every day. The organization has expanded on the coworking idea to include mentoring and marketing resources to help its members succeed.
“We’ve started to consider ourselves an idea factory,” said bizperc manager Sarah Snyder, who is also the meeting planner for Think Big Partners.
The kind of community created determines how well such a coworking organization does, she said.
“You could have a warehouse with desks in it if you have great people join you,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur can be lonely.”
Snyder says she’s seeing a trend of people who want to work together instead of being competitive.
“Now it’s not about being the biggest, but finding a career and work that puts you in something that’s part of a collaborative nature,” Synder said.
Staying in touch
Peggy LaPierre has been an independent agent with Aflac for about seven years.
While she spends much time in her car visiting with clients, she also wanted a private spot for meetings. Coffee houses and other public locations can deter conversations that involve confidential insurance information.
LaPierre also wanted to establish a Waldo presence. She looked at shared office suites and concluded coworking was the most economical way.
“This is a fraction of what those spaces offer,” said LaPierre, who is also the president of the Waldo Area Business Association.
At Cowork Waldo she has access to conference rooms and space for group meetings or an after-hours mingling. She also likes that she can check availability remotely on the cowork electronic calendar.
“I like the flexibility,” she said.
Some workers are motivated by being around others who are toiling away. For many, there’s value in being around other creative minds. In-person conversations matter.
“There’s nothing social about social media,” Teeman said.