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Coworking Office Space. Is it Right for Your Small Business?

coworking office space

April 8, 2015

Small business owners have it rough. Intense competition, the difficulty of attracting top-level talent, exhausting government regulations, limited staff, and many more obstacles make owning a small business challenging. Not to mention balancing the daily work load with the need to be on the constant lookout for new business. Coworking, sometimes referred to as shared office space, can be the answer to several of those challenges. Finding creative office space in the perfect location, at the right rent, and with the ideal company, requires planning and a little bit of luck.
The typical approaches for finding available coworking office space for a small business is to go through an office space company such as your local realtor, or, simply driving around looking for signs on office buildings of space availability. Sometimes office space solutions are the result of someone knowing someone who has excess space. This is a hit-or-miss approach and if timing is important, may not be the way to go.
Say you’re a sole practitioner public relations company who’s not only looking for spaces for lease, but would also like to share office space with another firm who could actually help you get new business. Advertising agencies, marketing companies, and web developers are just three examples of ideal “matches” who could offer the commercial space you seek, and the business connections to help you grow your business. But how do you source them out, and when you do, ascertain whether the arrangement is right for you?
There are a few things you need to consider before entering into a shared office space agreement. First off, beyond the standard criteria such as location and rent amount, the best coworking space arrangements begin with two business owners who understand that the relationship trumps all other aspects of the union. When two companies share space, the space itself and the economics surrounding it will only make sense if the working relationship is solid. And that’s definitely a two-way street.
The company who has the unused space may be primarily looking for a tenant, but likely, not just ANY tenant. Beyond earning extra rent income, they are inviting a relative unknown into their office space, and would obviously prefer to share space with someone they feel comfortable with from both the personal and professional perspectives. Undoubtedly, the other entity shares this same concern.
So what’s the best way to ensure that a new office coworking arrangement will be a smooth and beneficial transition? Here are some preliminary steps to take:
1. Get the relationship going before making the move.
Whether you have the space or need the space, start by communicating (in writing and verbally) what you expect from this coworking relationship. Landlords have an obligation to provide a certain level of professional business atmosphere, and tenants have an obligation to meet all the requirements set out in a lease agreement. But for the office space sharing atmosphere to work especially well, the relationship between the two primary parties will likely take precedence over everything else. Get to know each other through coffee meet-ups or lunches. Verbalize any concerns, wishes, etc., you’d like to bring to the forefront before signing the agreement. Achieving a comfort level up-front can overcome any little bumps in the road going forward, but to do so, you’ve got to establish that personal relationship first.
2. Everyone needs their privacy, so establish boundaries up front.
Computer files, paperwork, cell phones, client files, personal files, credit cards, etc. all are part of a typical business operation. No matter how much you might trust and/or like your coworking partner, you must take concrete steps to ensure your privacy. That may take the form of physical barriers like walls, locked doors, etc., or it could just require you to be diligent about setting up your devices for password-protected entry when you’re not around. The subject of privacy is not limited to companies who share office space together. All companies with employees must consider maintaining office security. And for certain industries like law, accounting, insurance, medical, etc., client confidentiality as mandated through industry regulatory requirements must be fully adhered to. Again, this is not something that is insurmountable to achieve, you just need to address it fully at the onset of the relationship.
3. Sell yourself and your talents
In a sense, the beginning phase of forming a shared office relationship is akin to an interview. Each party should make a serious effort to “sell” themselves to the other. Approaching this from a more formal perspective (i.e. providing resumes, showing portfolios of work, and other compelling presentations) will position you as the professional the other party likely seeks. And more importantly, trigger thoughts of how you two might form a strategic alliance, whereby networking, collaboration and referrals could occur. After all, this relationship is as much about possibly doing business together as it is about office space solutions.
4. Checks and balances.
It will cost you a little money up front, but in the long run, it’ll be worth every penny. Get references and get a background check. There are many companies out there who, for a relatively small fee, will provide you with some history of the person/company you’re about to share space with. From the standpoint of establishing a comfort level, it’s a small price to pay.
If you do all the above, you will have greatly increased your odds of finding the ideal company with whom to share space, and perhaps more importantly, grow your business.

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