As president of a St. Charles-based company that designs spaces for tomorrow’s workplace, Mara Hauser knows the market for big corporate offices is changing.
Companies are downsizing, seeking workplaces with less square footage and smaller furniture budgets, she said.
These trends, along with Hauser’s participation in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, have led The Hauser Group to create a new division focused on a different kind of model: coworking.
Coworking is a style of work characterized by a shared working environment and independent activity.
For example, Hauser said, instead of designing workspace for a company with 200 employees, her new venture – Catalyst Coworking – would design “great, inspirational spaces” where 200 people could come to work.
“I’ve never been so excited about something,” Hauser said.
The coworking movement
Coworking is a concept that has gained momentum in recent years, as documented by Deskmag, an online magazine that studies the topic.
In addition to Chicago, Deskmag lists coworking sites in such U.S. cities as Seattle; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; and Nashville, Tenn.; as well as locations in other countries, including Australia, Germany, Brazil and Mexico.
Hauser – who once worked out of her basement – said coworking gives those who operate from home, coffee shops and libraries a dedicated workspace free of such distractions as chores, barking dogs and kids.
It also gives independent workers a place where they can collaborate and network with others, she said.
According to Deskmag’s 2012 Global Coworking Survey, it’s that social or enjoyable atmosphere that is most appealing to co-workers – the term used to describe people who use coworking spaces. Two-thirds of respondents indicated that’s why they decided to work at their coworking space.
Hauser understands the value of collaboration. As a young business owner – she bought her first company at age 29 – she said she had a lot to learn. For her, she said, the National Association of Women Business Owners was a resource that provided networking and mentoring opportunities.
With coworking, Hauser said, users might not work in the same field, but they could have skills, such as copyediting, that would benefit one another.
Deskmag found that to be true in its inaugural Global Coworking Survey.
“By attending a coworking space, many individuals report making new acquaintance who have had a positive effect on their own work,” the publication reported.
“Within the last two months, 43 percent of survey respondents reported meeting one to three helpful acquaintances, while another 43 percent have found four or more such connections.”
Coworking in St. Charles
In all its surveys on coworking, Deskmag has found that the majority of co-workers – slightly more than 50 percent – are freelancers. The rest are entrepreneurs with employees or are employees of a company, according to the surveys.
Locally, Hauser said, census data on the number of people who work from home in the Tri-Cities and the Fox Valley support the need for the office space Catalyst Coworking aims to provide in St. Charles and Batavia.
“We know the population is out there,” she said.
Clients of Catalyst Coworking could rent desk space to fit their needs and would have access to meeting rooms, phone booths for private calls, Wi-Fi and, among other amenities, a community coordinator who could greet guests and coordinate services, such as food orders, Hauser said.
Sharon O’Leary of Murray Commercial Real Estate is helping the company find the right space, preferably between upscale and trendy with an urban feel, she said, noting the target size is between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet.
“We’ve identified a few spaces in downtown St. Charles and Batavia,” O’Leary said. “It’s still in the process.”
Meanwhile, Catalyst Coworking is hosting events to help build a community among independent and contract workers.
“We all want to do better at our business,” Hauser said. “We all want to help each other.”
By the numbers
Deskmag, an online magazine about coworking, has conducted the Global Coworking Survey since 2010.
According to the 2012 survey, here are the top 10 reasons why participants decided to work at their coworking space:
• 66 percent – Social or enjoyable atmosphere
• 62 percent – A community
• 57 percent – Interaction with others
• 54 percent – Good office infrastructure
• 42 percent – Knowledge sharing
• 42 percent – Good value
• 41 percent – Close to home
• 36 percent – Random discoveries and opportunities
• 25 percent – Flexible work times
• 23 percent – Interdisciplinary work