Group of Young PeopleI’m excited to join the other excellent writers here at CorpNet. As a consultant and advisor to entrepreneurs for many years, my first piece is drawn from the environment around me – namely, a coworking space in New York City. One of the startups I work with lets me use a desk here, and it makes sense for me to share the coworking experience with the CorpNet community.

What is Coworking?

So, what is coworking,and why is it different from “getting an office” somewhere? From the Coworking Wiki, coworking is based on the simple idea that “independent professionals and those with workplace flexibility work better together than they do alone.” Coworking means having “co-workers” when you work alone. When I left a job in 2007, working from home was a great idea for the first few weeks. Then I realized that I was missing out on human contact, new ideas, networking and ways to find new clients.

Imagine working in a space where networking is encouraged, where the participants work towards building community, and where there are activities that support entrepreneurs and solo or small group working professionals. The old model of staying home or going to an office, closing a door, and working by yourself all day pales in comparison.

What kind of office environment will I find?

I’ve worked in, visited and supported over a dozen coworking spaces in the last few years. A typical coworking interaction may involve a graphic designer meeting a programmer and joining forces to bid on or satisfy a larger project. Lawyers make friends with accountants and refer work. The startup founder down the hall finds a PR specialist in the kitchenette and she ends up helping him with his launch event. My current work neighbors range from a tailor and a company that fixes cracked cell phone screens to lawyers, B2B marketing firms, and a fitness entrepreneur.

Our coworking space at WeWork in New York had a “Turkey Dinner” with sandwiches and networking on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and regularly offers classes about how to get financing, how to promote a company, and deal with negotiations. Compare that to your ‘raw rental space’ and you can see the appeal of having a community.

Many coworking spaces provide an open space with conference tables, and shared, scheduled conference rooms. There’s usually a printer and copier, and someone to greet guests. A space like IndyHall in Philadelphia has 35 desks, power and network connections at each seat, shared conference room space, and an Xbox for those times you need to put down your work and escape. Others provide separate offices or semi-private spaces.

Some spaces are loud and some have rules to limit noise (phone call areas, use of headphones for music, quiet hours.) Most people are friendly and will change their behavior if they realize they’re having a negative impact on neighbors. The nice thing is that many coworking spaces will allow you to ‘test drive’ the space for a day, or have month-to-month rentals. This can be very helpful when you’re just starting up, as you have much less commitment involved in your real estate costs.

If you’re in a major metropolitan area, chances are there is a coworking space near you. One way to find space on a temporary basis is via DeskWanted, a referral service free for desk seekers, with a small fee for those who offer space. There’s also a crowd-created directory of coworking spaces around the world at the coworking Wiki, though some listings are current and some are woefully out of date. If there isn’t a coworking space near you, consider finding a company that has a spare conference room or some extra desks, and setting up your own “Jelly” coworking group with some friends.