The Risks and Rewards of Coworking

by | Sep 28, 2017 | Small Business Growth

When I reentered the legal profession after a startup adventure, I was hesitant to secure and sign an office lease.  I was immediately attracted to the “workplace as a service” or “coworking” model where business owners pay one set fee month to month for a private office, shared common area, internet, electricity, maintenance, coffee service and other perks.  Office real estate industry analysts have forecasted this as a high growth model for office space, and that by 2025, over half of offices will have some kind of coworking model element.
Over the last four years, I have tried a pass which allowed me access to 15 different coworking spaces in the Denver area.  I then got desks/offices at some of the better fits: one which was for attorneys only and one which started in Denver and had about 40 different businesses.  I happily ended up at WeWork is the largest coworking spaces in the world.
According to Harvard Business Review, most coworkers thrive much more than those in other spaces (See “Why People Thrive In Coworking Spaces”, Harvard Business Review, September, 2015.)   I know I thrive in this environment.  Here are some reflections and recommendations on cowork spaces-some legal and some practical:
Each Coworking Environment Has Its Own Vibe
Not all shared work spaces will be a fit.   One of the spaces I worked out of, many were full of cheap, generic furniture that tarnished my personal brand.  One had considerable interpersonal drama between managers which somehow drifted down to the member/tenants.  One was just for attorneys.  Finally, one had dead plants and garbage all over the place which caused me health concern.
I ended up at WeWork for four reasons:  they have the concept down, the space I work out of and the people I cowork with are very nice, the space fits my brand, and I have access to an international network of likeminded attorneys in my professional niche. If you are considering the concept, search very carefully as it is not just an office where you have no involvement; you are buying into someone else’s branding of how a workspace should be.
Invest in Technology with Great Security
Being in a coworking work space increases your chances of facing a data breach.  At WeWork, there are a number of enterprise, medium and small businesses who all have all addressed data sensitivity issues.
Through our research, we invested and integrated four different software program platforms that though the cloud provides us similar protection as any large corporation/law firm. All of our client facing/sensitive communication is protected using by SSL encryption and validated by Norton Secured by Symantec.  We also back up our work for clients on a separate data base.  In summary, data is going to be an issue whether you work in your own space or a coofficing space, and you need to take adequate precautions regardless.
Make sure you have a pair of good headphones
One of the benefits of a coworking space is how exciting it can be to be around different types of people every day. However, when working through tough cases, the number of events going on and different types of business you’re surrounded by can be very distracting (and fun!).  I invested in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones, and can focus very effectively most of the time.  Again, I see this as not necessarily being a coworking issue but an issue of focus in general.
Maintain Good Liability Coverage
 A liability insurance policy is even more important in a coworking space because you have less control over the environment.  Your clients/customers are exposed to any risks within the space (e.g. slipping on a floor which you are trusting others to maintain), as well as any risk posed by someone around the space who a client/customer may have reason to believe is a part of your business.
Protect Intellectual Property Early On
Hopefully, you will have already taken the appropriate steps to get your intellectual property protected before moving into a shared space, but if not get on it right away and be cautious in the meantime.  For those with a newer product or service, be careful not to share too much if you have not already protected your brand, invention and/or creation.  Finally, I always work with the  door shut when discussing client business.
Continue to Build Your Outside Network
If you choose to work in a shared space that is open to a variety of business it can be easy to forget to connect with others outside the workspace.   I try our best to stay connected to my larger network to maintain business and personal relationships outside the coworking environment.
The Number of Events/Opportunities Can Be Overwhelming
Some cowork spaces have events and happy-hours throughout the week, and it can be overwhelming. When I started at WeWork, I went to EVERYTHING. Now I pick one event a week and be selective. Try to go to events that are different or that truly have something to offer.
Variety is the Spice of Life
I have found that I am exposed to a number of different businesses way outside my industry.  Getting to know my coworking colleagues is inspiring and makes me a better attorney.  Working at a cowork space also provides me with an array of resources to tap into when I am stumped on a work problem or need some creative inspiration. People’s willingness to listen to my ideas and provide their expertise or feedback is something hard to get anywhere else.

If you have any interest in learning more about a coworking space or have more questions on how your firm can be successful in one, please feel free to give us a call or come down to our space to meet.


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