Working alone, together

Co-working spaces create collaboration atmosphere for startups, freelancers and entrepreneurs

Posted on Mar 29, 2018 :: Insight Insider
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The idea of working alone never bothered Tiffany Reichenberger.

First as a freelancer, and then when she launched her fledgling digital marketing firm, Reichenberger was comfortable pursuing her dreams on her own and working out of her house. At first, anyway.

As she built her career and her business, Reichenberger noticed some of the challenges that came with working on her own from home, particularly distractions such as household chores, a lack of appropriate meeting space or even the call of the couch for a quick afternoon nap.

She also missed being around her peers and other young professionals.

“The one thing I really began to notice was that I felt isolated from what was going on,” Reichenberger, founder and owner of Digital Garden Marketing, says. “I started hanging out in the coffee shops a lot, but there were still a lot of distractions, and it never did seem appropriate to invite clients I barely knew to a business meeting at my house.”

The solution to those challenges came when she discovered Rise & Grind, a co-working space and community in Oshkosh created by Eric Hoopman, founder of Dealer Fire, as a place for entrepreneurs, creatives, freelancers and others working in the gig economy to go when they needed a space to work. Reichenberger was one of the first members and now considers it an essential component of her company’s growth and success.

“It gives me a place to go each day so that I have that routine,” she says, ticking off other benefits such as AV-equipped conference rooms and high-speed internet connectivity. “It’s a great community, and the people here will hold me accountable if I don’t show up for a couple of days.

“As a side benefit, I get to meet and mingle with other entrepreneurs and develop important relationships — my accountant and attorney are here — develop ideas and bounce them off folks,” Reichenberger says. “I also get a better work-life balance. Work stays at work.”

Whether it’s the gig economy, increased entrepreneurial spirit or remote employment opportunities, more people are working alone in pursuit of their career and business goals. By 2020, about 40 percent of the United States workforce will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors or “solopreneurs,” according to a 2010 study by Intuit.

“The dynamic of the way we work has really changed,” Garritt Bader, principal at GB Real Estate Investments and a partner in developing Rise & Grind’s Green Bay location, says. “Yet, we still have some basic needs, and we are trying to offer that along with flexibility and camaraderie.”

Nearly 1.2 million people worldwide will have tried co-working by the end of 2018, and around 14,000 co-working spaces will be in operation, according to the 2017 Global Coworking Survey. Sixty-four percent of co-workers say shared workplaces have made them more productive and able to focus better than a conventional office setting, a finding also echoed in research reviewed by Harvard Business Review.

That spirit of collaboration and support is precisely the idea behind the recent growth, both regionally and nationally, of co-working spaces such as Rise & Grind in Oshkosh. From the tip of Door County to the shores of Sheboygan, a variety of co-working spaces has developed to meet the needs of freelancers, entrepreneurs and others who find themselves working without a fixed office.

“It’s a place they can come every day or just those one or two days a week for particular needs,” Jessica Meidl, the community manager for the Oshkosh Rise & Grind, says. “We are very driven by community and networking. There is a lot of collaboration going on.”

The basic concept of co-working is that members can rent the space they need when they need it, whether that’s a countertop for the day or a private office suite by the month. Most spaces have 24/7 entry, so members can use the space when it suits them, and most have access to, or include onsite, coffee and food.

Perhaps by nature, the day-to-day crowd tends to skew toward creatives and young entrepreneurs.

That was certainly the demographic Tryg Jacobson had in mind when he created Jake’s Café, a creative community and co-working space in Sheboygan. Jacobson founded the Jacobson Ross advertising agency, selling the business in 2010. After the sale, the agency closed the Sheboygan offices in a consolidation move, leaving Jacobson with the buildings and no tenants.

With space designed to foster creativity, he launched Jake’s Café and has seen a thriving community of both left- and right-brain thinkers flock to the environment. Indeed, his experience during the past several years tells him they thrive being in the same space.

With a wide range of spaces available, many co-workers have been with Jake’s for many years. Some of his original tenants produced the short film “The Promise of Sheboygan County,” which is used to market the area and introduced Jake’s Café to the larger business community.

“I think we do a good job of providing people a community they can trust,” Jacobson says. “We’ve had more than 200 people come through. Some are still here, and some have moved on to bigger things.”

Jake’s Café offers members some truly unique spaces — including the sanctuary of an old church — to focus on their projects. It also offers memberships for space and private offices. There is indeed a café onsite, as well as apportioned conference rooms and other office amenities. Jake’s Café has even worked out intern arrangements with the colleges serving the Sheboygan area.

While creatives, freelancers and solopreneurs may be the primary demographics of burgeoning co-working spaces, other professionals have discovered them.

For Linda Wokosin Janotha, who lives in Oshkosh and travels extensively in her position with Optum Health,

part of UnitedHealth Group, Rise & Grind in Oshkosh offers the amenities she needs to conduct business calls and research without distraction or the inconvenience of driving to corporate offices in Green Bay.

“If I’m not traveling, then I’m working from home, which was great when I had kids at home, but now that’s not the case,” Wokosin Janotha, vice president of account management and sales with Optum, says of her recent decision to purchase a membership. “I tried the coffee shops, but it’s too noisy. This was a no-brainer for me. I get more energy when I’m around other people.”

Working with Eric Jandrain and in conjunction with Hoopman, Bader opened the Rise & Grind co-working space in Green Bay in March above Green Bay Public Library on the previously vacant third floor. The library/co-working/café space will share a similar “urban chic” look to the Oshkosh location and will use the high-speed fiber-optic connectivity already available through the library.

With its location above the library, it will provide unique access to research materials few full-equipped corporate offices could provide.

“You are right above a reference librarian who can help you find some pretty great information,” Bader says. “That’s pretty powerful.”

As the demand for co-working space has grown in communities across Northeast Wisconsin, so have opportunities for specialization.

In Appleton, Brad Cebulski shared the frustration of many content creators regarding the lack of affordable production space for photography, video and audio production. Many small creative agencies can’t afford to maintain their own space full time, and rental options are limited, he says.

Cebulski, the founder of BConnected, partnered with Appleton real estate agent Kevin Evers to create Blank Slate Collective, a creative membership-based studio and co-working space. The studio, which launched in January, features top-of-the-line creative equipment and more than 700 square feet of open studio space.

When not in use for studio projects, the space can also be used as a traditional co-working space. There is also room for additional co-working space as membership grows. Like other co-working spaces, options include straight daily fees to discounted rates for purchasing a membership.

“As BConnected grew, we needed a greater ability to create that content, but it still is not cost effective to have it in-house, and a lot of small agencies and content creators are in the same situation,” Cebulski says. “Blank Slate can be an accelerator for a vibrant creative economy, helping it to grow.”

With demand growing, new co-working spaces are part of development discussion taking place in several communities in Northeast Wisconsin. Jacobson, who has seen the movement grow for nearly eight years, says success depends on three simple things: a sense of safety, a sense of belonging and opportunity to do meaningful work — principles he applies at Jake’s Café.

Access to a good cup of coffee is a must as well.

“Our busiest day is usually Thursday,” Meidl, of Rise & Grind in Oshkosh, says. “That’s our free coffee day.”