An increasing number of co-working spaces in the Valley are making it attractive and affordable for those who might otherwise work from coffee shops or at home in their pajamas.
And members at Easthampton Co.Lab in Eastworks and Click Workspace in Northampton say that the flow of people of different occupations in and out of shared spaces provides not just a social place to work, but opportunities for business innovation, community engagement and networking.
“A lot of what I hear is ‘I just don’t want to look at my cat any more,’” said Sita Magnuson, one of the co-founders of Co.Lab.
The number of people working remotely has skyrocketed in the last two decades, with even more growth expected in the years to come. In 1995, 9 percent of people said they have telecommuted and last year that number was up to 37 percent, according to a Gallup poll.
The Easthampton and Northampton spaces join others in the Valley, including Cultivate and Nest in Hadley, The Commons in Williamsburg and the Writers’ Mill in Florence.
Members say each space has its own unique flavor a unique mix of members – something evident by comparing the sleek, modern design of Click and the funky hodgepodge decor of Co.Lab.
Magnuson and her partners Seth Lepore and María José Giménez opened the shared work venue on the third floor of Eastworks in January 2015. The space offers panoramic views of Mount Tom and Lower Mill Pond and is outfitted with plush couches, multi-colored throw rugs and other unique accoutrements.
There are 16 members of Co.Lab, including writers, computer coders and nonprofit workers. Some opt for the $100 monthly membership, which allows them to pick a spot at one of the shared desks in Co.Lab’s main room, while others who want more personal space can pay up to $200 for a shared private office.
“We’re all here for a cozy place to work and to make connections,” said Giménez, 39, of Easthampton.
Each level of membership comes with access to the conference room, the larger Community Room and use of Wi-Fi and kitchen – and entry into events.
There are workshops of all sort – a four-session series geared toward small business owners, movie screenings and game nights – all part of what the co-founders say is part of an ever-important mission of community engagement.
“We are all really heavily invested in Easthampton staying affordable and gritty – in a good way,” said Lepore, 41, a writer and performer who lives in the city.
Many events are hosted by members themselves.
Giménez, for example, is a poet and literary translator and hosts monthly translation teach-ins with others in her field.
“It’s a low-risk space for people who don’t even know if they could teach something,” said Magnuson, 35, a graphic facilitator and meeting designer who lives in the city. “We welcome anyone to teach anything they want.”
And they also rent space to non-members, including businesses and others.
The Community Room can be rented for $85 for an entire day. And nonmembers can attend events and workshops for just $10, or $5 and five cans of food that are donated to the Easthampton Community Center.
“As long as people don’t bring cranberry sauce, we’re down,” Lepore said.
The organization is a limited liability company, but it operates as a “social enterprise” – meaning that any profits are reinvested in programs and equipment. The trio self-funded the startup.
“Because of that independence we’ve been able to be really deliberate with how we grow,” Giménez said. That includes an involved application process that includes interviews and an application packet that asks questions about passions and weird facts.
“We’re really focused on who’s here and what they can bring to the space,” said Magnuson.
By having a process designed to allow applicants and Co.Lab members to get to know each other, the process ends up being self-selecting, the founders say.
Bringing people from different backgrounds together is a key part of Co.Lab’s mission. They are showing that in a big way in the fall with Creative Catapult, a live crowdsourcing event that aims to bring together many minds to solve creative problems for projects selected through an application process.
“When you have 40 brilliant people in the room you have a lot of perspectives,” Magnuson said. “It’s a very structured, facilitated process but one that’s flexible to whatever comes up.”Click in Northampton
Click, too, aims to bring something more to the community.
After opening at 20 Hampton Ave. in 2011, Click moved to its new digs at 9½ Market St. last month in an effort to expand its offerings.
“This means real growth for Click, not just in membership,” said Mary Yun, the company’s president.
Click currently has 40 members, with 12 of those joining after the move to Market Street.
Yun was brought on by cofounder Lisa Papademetriou to help with Click’s expansion. She found investors to provide seed money for a new venture Market9.5 LLC, which owns the building where Click is now based. And Yun, an architect, designed the airy, bright new space.
There are a lot of windows in Click, both inside and out. Yun designed the inside offices in such a way that each and every one can see to the outside, no mater how far away they are.
“When you’re sitting in the offices you never feel like you’re closed in because you have views out,” she said. “This was a huge design element and why it’s comfortable to be in these offices.”
Memberships vary from $195 to access the open, shared space to $395 for a premium, private office.
Yun said Click was dedicated to remaining in downtown Northampton, rather than moving to a more convenient, newer building outside the center of the city. “Part of our mission is to keep Northampton a vibrant community,” she said.
In the middle of Click’s main floor lies a grand piano, a hint at what can happen at night.
“We’re a serious working space,” Yun said. But “when they leave in the evenings and weekends we have this space – let’s use it.”
The space plans to host monthly Arts Night Out Events, and just last week great success with an art salon that was attended by some 100 people.
Among those daytime tenants are Tinkergarten. The company created a platform for early childhood education in parks across the country through 160 teachers in 16 states.
After starting in Brooklyn, its cofounder Meghan Fitzgerald moved to the Valley – and into Click. The company currently has eight staffers, with half working in New York and the others at Click.
Some of those employees were hired based on networking out of Click, Fitzgerald said.
"It’s really lovely to be in such a collaborative environment,” she said.
Member Nova Brown, 42, moved to Easthampton last week from San Francisco thanks to the flexibility of her job as a user-experience manager for Accela, a company that makes software for the government.
“It was the perfect Venn diagram of academia, lesbians with children and snow,” she said of what attracted her to the area.
She said she’s had a lot of success in networking at co-work spaces in the past.
“I really crave that social part of going to an office but still want the freedom to go where I want,” Brown said.
Daniel Nelson is the cofounder of Tursus software, which makes mobile point-of-sale apps. All of the company’s employees work remotely, including one in Colorado.
Nelson, who has been coding since 2000, said that he quickly realized that working from home was not for him.
“Anyone who’s worked at home for a period of time realizes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” he said. “We’re social animals. It’s good to have interaction and not be in the basement."
Chris Lindahl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.