You’re probably close to a coworking space. From Kapolei, Hawaii to Kingston, New York, coworking pioneers are giving their fellow entrepreneurs low-cost spaces to launch their startup.

Coworking is trendy right now, but so are fanny packs. Popularity doesn’t make something the right choice. Here is an introduction to coworking to help you decide whether it’s a good option for your startup.

What Do Coworking Spaces Offer?

At a minimum, you’ll have a desk, a place to use the restroom, wifi, and coffee. I’ve not seen a coworking space yet that offers any less than this (though some don’t offer that much more).

Most spaces also offer private desks, or private offices, at a higher cost.

Everything beyond that falls under the category of amenities. The list of amenities is as long as the list of coworking spaces. I’ve heard of beer on tap, networking events, podcasting studios—different coworking space owners have different ideas of what makes business magic happen.

Benefits of Joining a Coworking Space

These are the main reasons startup entrepreneurs choose to set their laptops in a coworking space, rather than at a traditional office space or in their spare room.

Built-In Networking and Support Services

How are you going to find customers? How about experts who can help you with marketing or financing? If you don’t think you can do it all from within the closed doors of an office building, or from your own home, a coworking space gives you a head start. Most coworking spaces sponsor periodic network events for members.

And the collaboration isn’t confined to designated times. When you overhear conversations or discussions, it’s okay to chime in if you have something to contribute. That type of behavior that would be rude in an office building elevator, but in a coworking space, it’s part of the reason people sign up. You’ll both learn from and teach your coworking peers.

A coworking space also handles daily office must-haves like coffee for the coffeemaker, paper towels for the kitchen, water in the cooler. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re trying launch a business, the fewer things on your to-do list the better.

How Do I Pay?

Coworking spaces typically offer monthly membership tiers. Every space has different tiers and amenities, but here are the most common:

  • Roaming Worker: Can use the facility and work in the common areas, plus enjoy basic amenities like wifi, water, snacks. May or may not be able to use higher-end amenities like conference rooms.
  • Permanent Desk: Has a dedicated desk, plus access to all amenities, and can use shared conference rooms.
  • Private Office: Has their own private room in the facility, plus access to all amenities. May be able to access facility after hours.

Many coworking spaces also offer drop-in day passes, or the ability to reserve conference rooms for one-time use.

What Does A Coworking Membership Cost?

Cost? Well, it depends. In Bethel, Maine, at the Gem Theater and Co-Workspace, a “nomad” style plan is $50/month. In San Francisco’s Financial District, the WeWork chain of coworking spaces offers a similar plan for $550/month. The snacks are probably better, but not that much better. Obviously you’ll pay premium if you want to work at the name-brand space in a high-rent district.

Still, even at $550/month, you’re paying less than you would for office space in nearly any city. My recommendation is to put cost to the side, and first examine whether coworking is right for you.

Avoiding The Cost and Commitment of an Office Lease

Do you know exactly how much revenue you’ll make, exactly how many employees you’ll hire, and exactly what equipment you’ll need? If yes, then you are an excellent candidate to sign a long-term contract for a fixed amount of office space.

Few startup owners fit this description.

You can’t know yet how your startup will perform. If revenues explode, you’ll need to expand quickly. If your idea simply isn’t working, you’ll want to invest in changing it—which can be tough to do with a fixed rent bill.

Starting your journey at a coworking space keeps costs and commitments to a minimum with the flexibility to pivot quickly if you need to.

You May Get More Done in an Office

If the choice is between your spare room and a coworking space, you already know which is cheaper. But is there a productivity cost of working from home? Will distractions like dirty dishes take your mind away from work, or serve as a convenient excuse to procrastinate?

Going to the office removes you from the temptations of home. If you’re even 10 percent more productive in an office setting, coworking might be a profitable choice.

Drawbacks of Joining a Coworking Space

Let’s stipulate cost as a drawback. But even if coworking was free, it might not be the right choice for you or your business.

Lack of Control

At a coworking space, you won’t get to choose the type of coffee they use, or the brand of toilet paper in the restroom, or the brand of office chair available to you. The people around you will change daily, as will the volume and timbre of their voices.

Does the idea of making small talk with strangers fill you with dread? Coworking tends to attract extroverts. If “water cooler talk” drains rather than energizing you, you may be better off in an environment where you decide with whom and when you want to talk.

All this is to say—If you’re the type of person who needs everything just so, coworking may create anxiety and discomfort you don’t need. And vice versa—your co-working peers might not want you there either.

A Casual Arrangement Is Wrong for Your Company’s Image

Ever notice the imposing old bank buildings in your city? The banks of the early 20th century performed the same functions as today’s strip mall banks, but in those days of financial panics and bank runs, financial institutions needed to project an image of solidity and stability. You might want to consider if your business needs to do the same.

Customers—especially those signing up for long-term arrangements—may be hesitant to commit to someone who shares a desk. Anyone relying on you to provide a critical service won’t want to have to worry that you’ll suddenly disappear. They’ll worry less if you have an office. The sign on the door does signal to potential customers that you’re in it for the long-term.

Escaping The Office Is Why You Founded Your Startup in the First Place

Being close to loved ones, avoiding traffic, not having to put on shoes—these are all legitimate reasons to quit corporate office life and start your own business. Joining a coworking space may make you feel like you’ve just swapped one office for another.

If you love to work really early, or really late, your coworking space may not be available during those times. In which case, why pay for it?

Not Sure? Try Starting Slow

This isn’t a permanent decision like buying a house. Coworking spaces are designed for flexibility.

You don’t have to commit to a 40-hour week at the coworking space. Plenty of people use them as an auxiliary location to their home office—a place to get away to for an hour or two, just to mix things up. (You may already go to a coffee shop for the same reason, and if you add up how much you spend on coffee, a coworking membership might be cheaper.) Or you can pick a couple of days a week to cowork, and work at your other location the rest of the time.

Start out at a lower-tier, or as a drop-in, and see if you enjoy the atmosphere. If so, go more often. If not, forget it. Just like a fanny pack, a coworking arrangement is easy to clip on if you need it, and take off if you don’t.

Kurt Birkenhagen
Kurt Birkenhagen

Kurt Birkenhagen is the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at Vast Conference. Since 2009, he has been focused on design and product development working to deliver innovation in conferencing technology.