It might sound like a recipe for disaster to folks typically surrounded by cubicle walls: Sharing workspace with people who work for other companies.
Wouldn’t that be distracting? Wouldn’t that stymie productivity?
Maybe for some. But it’s kind of like joining a gym. Give it a couple months and you’ll get acclimated to it.
That’s how Anne Kirby explains coworking to those who are brand new to the open office atmosphere that focuses less on walls and more on networking and collaboration. As founder of The Candy Factory, a coworking organization in Lancaster, Kirby is a cheerleader for the concept.
“Coworking saves you from isolation,” she said. “We could take this community and go anywhere with it. The building and the space are not the primary core of what we do. It’s cultivating community. It’s connections. It’s creating a tribe.”
With a second location, called Rock Candy, opening at Rock Lititz LP, Kirby sat down with the Business Journal to provide some insight about the benefits of a shared working environment.
Kirby moved to Lancaster in early 2000. A design and web development professional, she was working from home and not meeting people in the area.
She decided to start a social networking group called the Creative House of Lancaster, using Myspace to organize meet-ups.
“We were all just desperate for connections, just meeting other people,” she said. “Through those connections, business partnerships were made and collaborations were happening.”
“It became an amazing group of people and we started noticing it wasn’t just creatives,” she said. “We were getting attorneys, CPAs, people from all different industries who were just looking for a social network that was tangible.”
Kirby started researching the coworking movement that was gaining momentum and realized a shared office could be a perfect fit for the Creative House.
She and her business partner at the time opened the original Candy Factory in 2010 at the Keppel Building. It relocated to the 300 block of North Queen Street about two years ago. It built off of the community Kirby established through the Creative House. Memberships, offered at various price levels, give users a place to work, WiFi connection and the added bonus of exposure to other professionals in the area.
A coworking space provides more than just a place to plug in your laptop. But you get what you put in, Kirby said.
“The more engaged you are, the more reward and benefits you will get,” she said. “If you’re a small business and you’re just navigating the startup phase, there’s a lot of people in-house who are there to offer advice.”
With professionals from various industries and experience levels, coworking spaces create a pool of skills and information. You’re surrounded by people who might have solutions to the problems plaguing your business, or connections to the resources you need to grow.
“Building your network, just having a community to tap and say to people, ‘Hey, this is what I do, if you ever need that service, I’m available,’ is so valuable,” she said.
For example, Kirby has a design company called The Sweet Core with seven employees. The company is completely scalable, she said, because she can pull from within The Candy Factory or Rock Candy, and custom-build teams based on what a clients’ needs are.
“Yesterday a client was having some database issues,” she said. “I was able to just message one of our members and say, ‘Could you pop in on this meeting for five minutes and explain this?’ Who has that? That’s just not a thing. It’s spontaneous. It’s quick, and people are flexible.”
“What open office space does is it encourages people to collaborate and network in a way that you don’t if you close yourself off in a room.”
As The Candy Factory and Rock Candy evolve, Kirby hopes to create a “cohort of powered minds” through which people at different stages in their business can be guided to local organizations that can help them, such as ASSETS Lancaster and the Women’s Business Center.
“There’s a lot of support if you’re in the startup phase,” she said. “If you’re in that first one to two years, there are so many resources out there. You need a business plan? I can point you to five different organizations that can help you with a business plan. But if you’ve been in business for 45 years and you’re hitting some different obstacles, you’re starting to hire, you’re starting to fire and you don’t know how to navigate all of that, there’s not necessarily a place you can go.”
Aside from connections, coworking can also produce cost savings.
Aspiring business owners are starting to realize they can pass on the overhead associated with a brick-and-mortar location and instead choose to grow their company in a collaborative space like The Candy Factory, Kirby said.
“Why as a small business or startup, why would you risk taking on a five-year lease at the standard rate of $10 to $12 a square foot plus all utilities,” she said.
Larger companies have shifted to allowing employees to work from home, she said, but “some of us just aren’t built for it.”
“We are social beings and some of us need structure and need to be social and can’t just work from home day in and day out,” she said.
“I think while we feel we’re really connected because we’re all on social media, we’re actually isolated probably more than ever before,” she said. “So people are looking for ways to build relationships and connections.”
“If tomorrow this would all blow up and all of these spaces would go away,” she said, “We would still have the core community.”