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When Coworking Doesn’t Work for Your Small Business

If coworking works for you, keep with it. But what happens when it’s not?

When you start a business of your own, even before you look to acquire clients, your first focus will be on how to launch and run it while also keeping costs down. You take on as much of the work personally as you can, outsourcing the rest on an hourly basis or at a per-project rate, and leave the rest of the work that needs to get done for a date much further down the line. If this idea takes off, you’ll hopefully have more working capital to pump back into the organization to help it grow beyond where it was at the start.

So it makes sense in those early days to set up camp somewhere like home, a local library, or a coffee shop, where you can save on the cost of having to rent space. Especially if you don’t require many in-person meetings or long phone calls, these types of working situations can be ideal. Manage your budget and also maintain focus on the task at hand.

But as your company grows, and you take on more responsibilities, and possibly more personnel, too, you have to reassess the resources you dedicate to and invest in to enable the organization to grow. So you might have set aside some money to pay for a monthly seat at a coworking space near your home that has given you a separate, specified place to house your workday needs. Budgeting for this type of setup is itself a milestone for many companies, a form of recognition that the old way of doing things is no longer sufficient enough to execute on the procedures and professionalism required of them.

For reasons that have been documented countless times over the past decade, coworking has emerged as a viable middle-of-the-road option for many small business owners who hope to have conference rooms available when necessary and also privacy to sit diligently and work much of the rest of the time. Most coworking spaces allow you to adapt and adjust your coworking needs to accommodate your growing team, giving you the number of seats that you demand to operate. Additional headcount like that, though, comes with added costs, beginning with the space to host a growing team without stifling their creativity amid a small space.

For the flexibility they champion, coworking companies charge a premium on their spaces. Some small business owners determine that it’s a cost they’re willing to pay because they don’t have to worry about setting up IT services, restocking the shelves, and other seemingly cumbersome activities that pull them away from running their businesses. Paying that premium is a built-in cost to having office space at all, they figure. And for many of them, that type of office setup works, and will continue to work, as long as their team is used to it and comfortable with it as well as a long-term solution.

If you don’t experience any pitfalls of a tight space with numerous others, and coworking remains the best option for you, there’s no reason to change it up. However, small business owners should be aware that at a certain growth size, the coworking life might begin to feel a little bit cramped, strained, or constricting. If feelings of claustrophobia begin to surface, it’s not only a good financial reason to begin to look into securing office space of your own; it’s also good business.

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Amid coworking, the more regimented employees who expect structure to their days could begin to call on you for dedicated workspaces that they can field calls or focus more than they are able to while sitting among other team members. If you’re finding people opting to work from home or other locations outside of your office space, that’s a tell-tale sign that something has changed. Pay particular attention to the veteran members of your team, who once were the biggest champions of the company at an earlier stage, and seek counsel with them about their experiences should their behavior and outlook begin to shift.

In addition, consider the roster of upcoming meetings you have. Are there candidates for open roles coming in? Are you seeking fundraising from outside investors? Are strategic partners interested in working with you on an initiative? If so, give some thought to the impression you leave on them should they come to meet you for the first time at a coworking space instead of your own office. Sure, it’s possible to get around this issue by meeting at their place of business or a public location, but you shouldn’t have to fret over small yet significant details like these. After all, the appeal of flexible office space in the first place was to eliminate distractions and frustrations as much as possible to allow you to get to work and stay at work.

Check in with veteran team members about their experiences when company culture starts to shift.

A final category to monitor for and to take seriously is the concept of company culture. When it’s just yourself and a select few others in an office, you don’t have to worry about whether everyone gets along well — they sort of have to. But as you reach a half dozen or more employees, you want to begin to think about what you can do to ensure that all of them are having a pleasant work experience overall. This doesn’t mean you should purchase snacks for them or put in a mini-basketball hoop to liven up the space. You should contemplate more holistically what type of company you’re building and the model you set. If you’re giving off a cheery disposition, and your team follows, then coworking might remain the best spot for all of you. But if things are feeling a little tense, it’s worth reflecting on whether you could hit the reset button by inhabiting a new office space solely dedicated to your team and their interests.

As companies grow, the culture is bound to be impacted. Sometimes it’s for the best, other times it can be a challenge. Ultimately, it’s up to the owner of the business to make the tough calls with the budget and resources invested into the company. There’s no ‘wrong’ way of doing things, provided that the owner is making those decisions with heads held high and eyes wide open, being responsive to what team needs as they embark, together, on its next stage of growth.

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