So, I've been bloviating about coworking on this blog for… um… damn. A while now. Since September of last year, I guess. (Tho' as I mentioned then, it's been on my mind for longer than that yet.) I wanted to post some current thoughts, and give some history about progress of the past year.
We kicked the coworking-in-Columbus discussion off with a couple of open forums, one in November of 2007 (invite | meeting minutes) and a second one (invite) in March of this year. While a number of plans were presented, and promises made, I think the most significant outcome of those meetings was to get the conversations started and we established a semi-organized 'casual coworking' group that met on Fridays throughout most of the Spring and Summer of this year.
Casual Coworking Was Fun While It Lasted
From our inaugural run upstairs at the North Market (verdict—decent Wifi, awesome lunchbreak, but we all left smelling like the rafters in a smokehouse) to the eventual groove we settled into at Cafe Apropos, these sessions were a lot of fun for me personally. (Companion blog.)
Most weeks we had decent turnout, some weeks excellent turnout (I think our record was 13 for one Friday at Luck Brothers Coffee.) In fact, we struggled with a problem that I can only imagine all coworking arrangements have to deal with at some point: the fine balance between working together and socializing. (Most weeks, we were a little more 'co' than 'working.')
What finally ended up killing these gatherings? I'm not 100% sure. I'd like to say that it was simple attrition: group morale suffered when coworking favorites Issac Kelly and Jim Cropcho moved away from our fair city (Issac has since moved back—In your face, North Carolina!) But in reality, I think it was simple sloppy planning and coordination. Venues not published until the night before. 10am start-times that actually were closer to 1pm. That kinda stuff.
But we had fun, and a bunch of us got to meet face-to-face and bootstrap a little community.
There've been a handful of space-options in town over this past year. Some of the Friday coworkers and I checked out CoSpace on Brickel, in the Short North. I'm not sure how much of a 'pure play' coworking space this was intended to be (desks were limited, and after talking with proprietor Chris Hamrick, it felt more like a 'subsidize our extra space' arrangement.) I've since lost touch with Chris, but—if anyone's worked out of CoSpace (or, Chris if you're listening!) I'd love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment.
Another group of folks have proffered up space at "The Garage" at 1st & High for free drop-ins as well as a membership arrangement. Yury Tsukerman was a regular attendee at our casual Fridays, and has worked out of The Garage space since early summer.
It never felt like a good fit for me, personally (as I read it, the space has more of a 'business incubator' vibe that my BigCo-telecommuting self couldn't partake in) but I understand that the folks involved have plans to expand the operation and push across High Street to what looks like a pretty cool location, so we'll see—it could be a great resource for coworking in the coming year. We've invited the folks behind that space to come and talk at the info-session we're hosting on Jan. 13th (more on that below.)
For me, the ambition is and has always been to have a place to build a coworking community. Though I sometimes feel it more than other times, one thing has remained constant for much of the past two years: I don't enjoy the greatest work environment from my home. So, yeah, I'd like to establish a workday beach-head somewhere. Somewhere not a cafe.
And—with various folks at various times throughout the year—I've been working to just that end. I won't bore you with all the ups and downs of the project, but I will say that "It's still on" and we're working to make early 2009 an eventful one.
Andrew Hunn came to one of those original public meetups, was a regular attendee at the casual coworking events throughout the Spring, and told me, straight up, that he was interested in establishing a space and would make active use of it himself. (Andy's the "Head Jerk" over at gaming site Elitist Jerks.)
Andy and I have a lease on a space on E. Long Street, and will be holding a coworking information session on January 13th (a Tuesday.) Totally informal (we won't have chairs yet!) Hopefully just a conversation—going two ways—about what folks would find valuable in a coworking space in Columbus.
We're trying to get the space ready for a late-January move-in. I personally have some crushing deadlines coming up early this next year, and every last one of them will be assisted greatly be having access to a quiet-but-energetic, friendly, casual workspace. To be honest, if it's just me and Andy working in there for a couple of months, that'll be fine with me.
But I know, from a number of inquiries on Twitter, through email and more than a couple of face-to-face conversations, that there's a lot of interest in coworking in and around Columbus. I look for a number of spaces to start up in the coming year. There's just too much demand, spread across a wide geographic area (Dublin coworking, anyone? Hilliard?)
One of the things we had wanted to discuss at the 13th session was the formation of another casual coworking group. And—wouldn't you know it—someone beat us to it!
Which, we're actually very happy about—it was our hope all along to encourage a group to formulate under the Jelly moniker, but neither Andy nor I find ourselves with much spare time lately to think about coordinating such a group.
Fortunately, at last week's co\elaborate unconference, it seems as if coworking was on people's minds. (I bet the conversation was helped along by the afore-mentioned Issac Kelly, who attended #ce08.) The outcome of that breakout group? Columbus has a Jelly chapter! They're meeting on January 15th at the Columbus Metro Library (the main one.) You can bet I'll be there! (Doesn't hurt that it's only about a mile from my house! If it's not toe-eating cold, I may even try to walk that day.)
And It Gets Better!
In the midst of all this momentum (and perhaps caught up in the good will of the holidays?) Mark Henson has opened up the (extremely cool) Sparkspace for a couple of weeks of free coworking! I've been to a couple of seminars at Sparkspace, and I always enjoy the experience. Not just the space, but the friendly familial vibe has to be experience to be believed. (Check out Mark's latest project, btw—he's challenged himself and his staff to come up with 100 "Sparks" or ways to please and delight their customers. Yeah, that's the kind of ship that Mark runs over there.)
So tomorrow afternoon, you'll find me at Sparkspace, gettin' some work done! I'm officially on vacation from Yahoo! this week, but there's always book stuff… or Corkboard… or blog-entries, or…