Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post.
Shared work spaces are popping up far away from urban cores.
When Anju Kurian works, she fires up her computer at Serendipity Labs, a co-working space in Rye, a Westchester County suburb of New York City. “Work is everywhere,” says Kurian, the co-founder of Vermilion Talent, a business that helps women reenter the workforce after leaving corporate life to raise their children.
For many, the word “co-working” still conjures up images of skinny-jeans-clad, cold-press-swilling tech types in a downtown warehouse. But the practice has grown by leaps and bounds in a short period of time. According to a study by the magazine Deskmag, the number of co-working spaces worldwide is expected to increase by 22 percent in 2017. And as it has grown, co-working has spread to the suburbs.
Serendipity Labs is one of several co-working companies found outside of urban cores. “Work locations and the workforce of today are neither urban or suburban, but an interwoven blend depending both on clients and where employees live,” says John Arenas, Serendipity Labs’ CEO.
Five of the company’s six current locations (it has more in development) are in suburban places like Aventura, Florida, and Ridgewood, New Jersey. All are near transportation hubs or major interstate arteries, which makes traveling to an urban HQ easy. This is a key advantage for large corporate clients, whose workers often need both urban and suburban sites to work.
Serendipity and its competitors, such as New York City-based WeWork (which doesn’t have any suburban locations yet), offer corporations the security, ergonomics, and legal compliance they require for remote employees. Now, nearly 45 percent of Serendipity’s members are not entrepreneurs but remote employees of established companies.
For example, Robert Meier, a senior sales executive at the Albany, New York-headquartered SmartWatt Energy, an energy-efficiency firm with 18 offices nationwide, did not want to relocate his family from Westchester to Albany. So SmartWatt covers his dedicated desk and secure phone line at Serendipity’s Rye location.
“What’s happening now is the unbundling of work,” says Sam Rosen, co-founder of Deskpass, a co-working subscription service providing access to 70 workplaces in the Chicago, Los Angeles, and Denver areas, including in suburbs like Pasadena, California, and Naperville, Illinois. “Work is a thing you do, and that’s separate from where you do it.”
While suburban co-working spaces are a boon to corporations that need space for a satellite office or a mobile team, they may also be more diverse in terms of industry, age, and gender than their urban counterparts. Serendipity boasts that more than 40 percent of its members are women, double the national industry average.
Mara Hauser, the CEO of 25N Coworking, a standalone co-working space in Geneva, Illinois, just west of Chicago, says more than half of her members are women. Many of them—especially those with young children—prefer to work near their homes, which are often in the suburbs, she says.
“We are close to home, school, activities, everything,” she says. “People who work here, whether they are corporate members or entrepreneurs, want the flexibility of going home in the middle of the day if they need to.”
Likewise, Kurian says her clients find co-working spaces in their neighborhoods to be a great waypoint on their path back to corporate life. “They work here [in Serendipidy Labs] first, get focused outside of home, and make connections,” she says. “There has been a lot of synergy between our clients and the corporate workers here.”
Arenas believes that co-working will become part of work culture everywhere, and suburban co-working will be the new normal. “Co-working is not just about finding a cool place to work,” he says. “It’s about having a fabric of locations for people to figure out how they want to do their life.”