New trend: 'Co-working,' where people share office space

AUSTIN — While masses crammed the South by SouthwestInteractive tech show over the weekend, a spacious home on the east side of town housed a thriving new techie trend.

"Co-working" businesses, like Conjunctured here, offer homey environs for people to work, brainstorm and drink as much free coffee as they like. Conjunctured's 22 members pay a monthly fee of$250.

The concept is not new. Such facilities surfaced acouple years ago, but they are thriving because the economy has forced companies and non-profits to use them as a practical way to save money. They are especially appealing to one-person businesses, which grew 8% in2008, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Small Business Administration.

Despite a rise in vacancies, office rentals remain pricey, at $27.80 per square foot nationally, says Reis, a New York firm that tracks commercial property.Co-working services are sprouting in Austin, San Francisco, Boston and New York. There's even a business district in Paris that is a hub to such spots. There are dozens of such businesses popping up in the U.S., says David Walker, co-founder of Conjunctured.

"Who can afford office space?" says Natalie Petouhoff, an analyst at Forrester Research.Satellite offices, she says, have displaced coffee houses, bookstores and libraries to study or work.

Where: Meet, Mix, Mogul, an open-loft space in Los Angeles run by Danielle Nicoli, has become a fashionable destinationfor writers, start-ups, sales people and non-profits. It's also home toa weekly cooking class. Customers can pay monthly or per use.

"It's a new thing for entrepreneurs," says Nicoli, who noted several co-working businesses are coming to Los Angeles. "It signals a socialized and economic shift in how people do work."

Many freelancers need nothing more than a Wi-Fi connection, but some independent contractors or people who work remotelywant to bounce their ideas off others. A new study of 3,600 telecommuters commissioned by Microsoft revealed their No. 1 complaint was lack of face-to-face interaction.

"Our biggest selling point is as a community," says Daria Siegel, director of Hive at 55 in New York. Since it opened in December, more than 50 people have become regular members.

Graphic designer Brad Istre has collaborated on several website projects with people he's met as a member of Conjunctured. Another half-dozen places are about to open in Austin.


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