For coworking, a bigger space isn’t necessarily better


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

On January 24, New Urban Network posted an article on the emergence of “coworking spaces,” where independent workers share work space — and often share energy and ideas as well.

Is there an optimum size for these spaces? A recent “Global Coworking Study,” presented on the Global Coworking Blog, finds that most people like a coworking site to be fairly small. According to the study, more than 50 percent of coworkers prefer sharing a workspace with fewer than 20 people. “Less than 4 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to work in a workspace with more than 50 users.”

“As interest in coworking increases all over the world, many space owners will be tempted to move the community out of its loft or small storefront, and into larger warehouses or standalone buildings,” the blog observes. “While expansion might allow space for more members, it could actually have a negative [effect] on the level of comfort and collaboration.”

One advantage of a smaller space is that it tends to generate a more intimate community. “When a coworking space maintains a small to moderate size, the members are more likely to get to know each other on a personal level,” the blog points out. “This facilitates more comfortable conversations and productive collaboration. A massive space with hundreds of members might be lucrative, but it’s likely to lose the intimacy and spontaneity that makes the coworking community so special. Members become ships passing in the night–with no knowledge of the struggles or successes of their fellow independents.”

A smaller space may also make more business sense.  “It might seem counter-intuitive for a coworking space owner to limit the growth of the community,” the blog acknowledges, “but as the Global Coworking Study points out, there are some interesting reasons for doing so. In addition to a less connected community, bigger coworking spaces usually see a lower the desk utilization load factor, and fewer full-time members. Members of smaller coworking spaces know that desks are limited, and they’re more likely to sign up for permanent desk space so they’ll be assured a space no matter when they decide to work.”

New Haven follow-up

The March 13 New Haven Register reported on The Bourse, one of the two co-working spaces in downtown New Haven that were the focus of New Urban Network‘s January coverage. Robert Orr, a new urbanist architect who operates his firm from the building’s fourth floor, and his wife, Carol Orr, who runs a popular antique store on the ground floor, opened The Bourse in December, wanting to find a good use for an underused part of their building, on Chapel Street less than a block from the Green.

“On a recent afternoon, there were two people working quietly in The Bourse, in addition to Robert and a colleague working on an architectural project,” The Register said. One of them, Patti Brown of Hamden, a writer for The New York Times and a recent transplant to Connecticut from the San Francisco Bay Area, explained why she decided to try a coworking space.

“For the past 10 years, I’ve worked in a bureau,” she said. “I’ve never worked at home, never wanted to. I’m a collaborative person, so I like to be around people. I’ve been coming once or twice a week, and I like it. Sometimes I work at the Sterling Library [at Yale University], but I can’t make phone calls there. This is such a pretty space, too.”

Robert Orr said he hopes The Bourse “will evolve into being a center of synergism, that when a person ventures in to work on a proposal, it just might happen that another person there that day has something else to contribute to the idea.” Said The Register: “Already, he’s being contacted by entrepreneurs who operate under-the-radar businesses that rely on plenty of innovation and ideas.”

Five percent of The Bourse’s revenue is donated to support sustainable urbanism, Robert said. Information is posted at The Bourse.