Erik Hanberg tried working from home. He toted his laptop com- puter to Blackwater, a downtown Tacoma coffee shop with free wireless Internet access, and tried working on clients’ intricate Web development projects.
“When you work at home, the dishes get done, the vacuuming gets done, you feel productive and you end up with a really clean house. But not a lot of the real work gets done,” said Hanberg, former general manager of the Grand Cinema.
“Sometimes you need a place to work with different kinds of distractions. But at the coffee shop, a lot of people would come in who aren’t working and just want to talk,” he said.
So Hanberg and two other nomadic businessmen who lamented their working environment at Blackwater decided to jump on the bandwagon of a national trend – co-working.
These days you’ll find Hanberg at Suite 133 – the 1,800-square-foot open upper floor of a high-ceiling, two-story downtown building bordering Fireman’s Park.
For $250 a month, tenants rent space at a work table, schedule client time or sensitive telephone calls for one of two private conference rooms, share a common couch-coffeepot-refrigerator area and come and go as they please. If tenants prepay their rent, they can get a drawer in a file cabinet. Otherwise, they pack in and pack out whatever they need each day.
Across the country, with the definition of work evolving into networks of individuals whose business involves traveling light with a cell phone and laptop computer, co-working spaces have cropped up in dozens of U.S. cities including Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif.
Freelancers, work-at-home professionals and contractors – established and start-ups – have found a home in co-working spaces.
Co-working Web sites don’t track how many people have opted for shared work space; however, last year BusinessWeek magazine reported that the Silicon Valley-based Institute for the Future identified co-working as a small business trend to watch over the next decade.
Some, like Tacoma’s Suite 133, which started in September, offer austere and cheap accommodations.
Others, like Seattle’s Office Nomads, which opened more recently, offer an upscale feel, storage and fax amenities, higher prices ($475 a month) and daily drop-in rates ($25).
“I love it,” said Marguerite Giguere, who bills herself as “the skydiving real estate agent.” You’ll find her online at www.theskydivingagent.com. I found her at a desk scouting homes for sale on her laptop computer.
She works for Crescent Realty, a Spanaway agency, but wanted to specialize in downtown Tacoma properties.
Rather than work out of Spanaway and commute, she took space in Suite 133 – a mile from home – right after Christmas.
“It was like a miracle from heaven. It gave me the opportunity to have a place that I could land,” Giguere said. “It fits how I like to do business. I want to be casual. And clients think it’s kind of cool.”
One of her clients includes another Suite 133 tenant – new-home buyer Seamus Holman, who co-founded the co-working space with Hanberg and Derek Young, the man behind the blog Exit133.com.
Holman, owner of Gridwork Design, a three-year-old graphic design and Web development company, has his own clients from across the country, including Chicago Public Schools and the Center for Social Media.
“I worked out of my mom’s house the first year. Then I worked out of a rental house” in the Proctor neighborhood, he said. “That was pretty isolating. It was getting kind of clear to me that I couldn’t work by myself anymore. I just wanted interactions with other humans. I was hanging out at Blackwater because of the free Internet and the coffee. I found I couldn’t drink that much coffee. I was coming home shaking from the caffeine every day.”
Then Young tested the co-working concept on Holman and Hanberg.
“It was the perfect timing and the perfect fit,” Holman said. And because he travels a lot to meet clients, he doesn’t have the expensive overhead of traditional office space.
No one at Suite 133 has an assigned desk. Folks just pick an open one and sit down. Sometimes two tenants will work from opposite sides of the same table.
On the day I visited, Noreen Hobson, who runs Lux Talent, a modeling and talent agency, had visitors.
A film crew from “E! True Hollywood Story” had set up in a Suite 133 conference room to interview Hobson for a profile of the late Hollywood actor Heath Ledger.
Hobson worked with Ledger on the Tacoma set of the 1999 motion picture “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Around the room, you can find art from local artists – Chip Van Gilder’s photography, posters from Beautiful Angle and the wacky sculpture of R.R. Anderson, who mounted pieces of a vacuum cleaner on a wall reminiscent of how big-game hunters would mount heads of their prey as trophies.
“We went very minimalist,” said Young, who formerly worked in information technology at REI in Kent. “We’re open to bringing in more services, like a fax machine, if people need them and everyone can use them.”
Right now, Suite 133 has nine paying tenants with room for about 20.
“We’ve had some interest from major Northwest companies from out of the area as a way for commute-trip reduction for their employees who live in the area,” Young said. “They came in here and had someone taking phone calls and working from the office as a test to see if it would work for them. Now they’re thinking about taking three or four seats to have a local presence. We didn’t see that coming.”
Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785