They’re hardly a new concept, either locally or nationally, but co-working environments are surging in popularity in Asheville. The idea is simple: Instead of renting an entire building, you pay for a portion of an office when you need it, thus reducing your overhead while still having access to the necessary professional infrastructure.
A look at Tessier Associates’ website shows downtown Asheville office space costing anywhere from $9 to $17.50 per square foot, with a six-month, one-year or longer commitment required. Co-working spaces, on the other hand, can be rented month to month, a boon for freelancers who may not have a contract six months down the road. In 2014, nearly 8,000 Buncombe County professionals reported that they worked at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Avl Coworking owner Derek Robinson hopes to tap into that pool of potential customers. His Haywood Road location is slated to open June 1. Monthly rents will range from $45 to $230, depending on how many days a week the client needs to use the space; the higher figure covers every weekday in the month. Besides providing access to such amenities as a conference room, fiber-optic-based Internet, a kitchen and lockable storage, notes Robinson, having a professional office space fundamentally changes the game. “When I tried to work at home, I’d always think, ‘I’ll just run a load of laundry real quick; I’ll watch the news for a bit; I could stain the deck.’ There’s something about physically removing yourself from the home environment and being somewhere that motivates you to work and stay task-oriented.”
Taking care of business
Craftpeak Collective member Dan Jaworsky agrees. “When you work from home, there are definitely good benefits, but, you know, you just get weirder and weirder,” he says, laughing. “It’s good to be able to get out.”
Now 2 years old, the collective is about a year into a bigger space on Walnut Street. Co-owners Corey Bullman and Julien Melissas say the downtown co-working space has operated at or near capacity since it opened.
Professionals, says Bullman, want an environment that’s conducive to taking care of business. “We asked ourselves if this space is going to be more fun or more work, and we definitely made the distinction that it needs to be professional. This is where you come to work: We don’t have pingpong tables and video game consoles, and we did that by choice, so you can come here and not be distracted.” The collective offers the usual office amenities, and monthly rents range from $150-$250.
“The ability to rent from Craftpeak is definitely preferable to being locked into an expensive, long-term lease that I would have to manage myself,” says Craftpeak member Lydia Roberts of Lydia Roberts Design. “As with any business, it’s important that I, as a freelancer, keep costs as low as possible, so the flex desk plan is perfect for me.”
Nathan Silsbee, the director of Base Camp AVL (formerly Open Space AVL), says his facility attracts people from a variety of disciplines: nonprofit workers, event coordinators, artists, startup businesses and the ubiquitous tech sector workers. The 5,500-square-foot former recording studio on Church Street houses about 15 flex workers and five larger organizations, including the Asheville Tool Library. Rents here range from $80 a month for five weekdays to $200 for all the weekdays in the month; there are also more expensive private office options.
Best foot forward
Coffee shops have long been the remote worker’s best available alternative to home, providing open space, caffeinated goodies and Wi-Fi, but they’re not always ideal for making a good first impression, notes Robinson. “They’re loud, and I feel like anytime I have a meeting, there’s a kid screaming. A lot of times I’m meeting someone I’ve never physically seen before, and I show up and there’s 40 people there.”
Beyond that, says Silsbee, there’s a lack of continuity. “You go to a coffeehouse and you see different faces” every day. Co-working environments, on the other hand, offer opportunities for collaboration. “The coolest thing about this place is the community,” he continues. “We have so many people from different backgrounds, and everyone here has become tightknit.”
Base Camp AVL member Chris Gragtmans, the co-owner of Dragonfly Live, says his drone photography business sometimes needs a professional front that neither his home nor a public space can provide. “A lot of clients want to see that you’re not a fly-by-night operation, so having a conference room is helpful. You want to present an image to premium clients that makes them want to do business with you.”
And once you’ve established a business relationship, says Craftpeak Collective member Adam Smith, “People trust you more when they have a place they can reach out to you and it’s not a bother.” When you work at home, notes Smith, who owns the software business aCodeSmith, “It’s that weird mentality of wondering, ‘Is he on his computer or is he making pancakes?’ They don’t know what you’re doing.”
Running a little faster
Of course, many freelancers and remote workers choose that path precisely for the lifestyle it provides. There’s something to be said for being able to work in your pajamas on a Monday morning or run errands at off-peak hours when there’s minimal traffic. For those reasons, Roberts says she’s not ready to completely abandon working from home.
But she also appreciates the advantages Craftpeak offers. “I like to come here on days when I’m having trouble focusing at home, or I want to bounce ideas around with someone else,” she explains.
Idea bouncing, in fact, is a large part of co-working’s appeal for those who mostly work alone. Drone photography, notes Gragtmans, relies heavily on technology that isn’t necessarily his specialty. At Base Camp AVL, he says, “There’s a strong tech presence, and I think they’ll have some helpful feedback for me on the aerial media business.” Even just seeing how others conduct day-to-day operations, he maintains, can be beneficial. “It’s interesting to see how other people bid on projects, invoice clients and do other aspects of running a business.”
Kirk Watson, who owns Causeway Interactive, says being around people in different disciplines is a great way to broaden your horizons. “Your perspective can get very narrow when you’re in your own industry,” he points out, and Base Camp AVL “is attracting people who are doing really cool work; just a lot of creative ideas. It’s helped me in a lot of ways and also introduced me to new ideas and new programming languages I wasn’t aware of.” Watson says he and another Base Camp AVL co-worker are starting a new venture after discovering they shared both a passion for working in the nonprofit sector and the requisite skills.
Sometimes you just need another perspective while trying to solve a problem, and your pets aren’t the best option. Having that outlet, says Jaworsky, has been vital for him. “One of the biggest benefits is having peers to bounce things off of. I work on a team, but we’re not in constant communication, so I’m on my own a lot. Sometimes you just want to bounce things off someone who knows what you’re talking about, who speaks the same language.”
Smith echoes that sentiment, adding, “It’s empowering to surround yourself with like-minded people, so you can get positive feedback about these complicated issues with digital technology.”
And specifics aside, just being in a professional setting with productive people can give your motivation a boost, says Robinson. “It’s the same thing as going to the gym: You run a bit faster on the treadmill with someone next to you than if you’re on a treadmill at home.”
Local co-working options
Avl Coworking, 726 Haywood Road, avl coworking.com
Craftpeak Collective, 15 W. Walnut St., craftpeak.com
Mojo Coworking, 60 N. Market St., mojo coworking.com
Base Camp AVL, 133 Church St., basecampavl.org
The Collider, 1 Haywood St., thecollider.org