Co-working spaces are booming. Here’s how to choose one

Co-working spaces – designed as affordable, shared, flexible spaces targeting startups and entrepreneurs – are booming in Charlotte. Four new spaces have opened since April.

Their tone is as freewheeling as the concept – from plastic yellow ducks used as do-not-disturb signs at Advent Coworking, to artists studios alongside office spaces at C3Lab.

Co-working is surging as more startups take root in Charlotte. According to Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte’s business incubator, the innovation sector of the Charlotte metro area grew 7.5 percent from 2012 to 2013, compared to an overall employment growth of 3.6 percent.

Ventureprise estimates startups likely created about 23,000 jobs in the Charlotte metro area in 2014, based on national figures.

As mobile devices and Wi-Fi untether us all, co-working for many is the right midway zone between leasing expensive office space and scrambling for an available outlet at the local coffee shop.

Looking to nab a desk or office at one of these places? Here’s what to consider:

1. Choose your vibe

Spaces are designed not only to provide workspace for members, but a sense of belonging, too. At Industry Coworking, on the campus of the NC Music Factory, one of the main entrances leads right into an open space with couches and a long table, all set up for workers.

Uptown startup hub Packard Place hosts 400 events annually for members and the public, according to co-founder Dan Roselli.

Local spaces are similar that way, but they have differences, too.

Are you an artist looking for a studio? C3Lab in South End has 11 artists studios, where founders Maria and Glen Nocik wanted “more than just a co-working space,” but a place “where you can unlock your creativity,” Maria Nocik says.

Want more of the feel of an “afterschool club?” That’s how 809’s Mark Bruinooge describes his space in Third Ward, which adds members through referrals only as a way of building an inclusive community.

There are no offices at Advent Coworking in Plaza Midwood, where members sit at tables or in cushioned chairs in an open space. “Closed doors are barriers, essentially, and prevent interaction,” co-owner Ryan Mitchell says.

Meanwhile, uptown sites Level Office and Packard Place, and Industry, all emphasize their office spaces as places where small ventures can grow fast. Industry’s 45 offices typically stay filled, and go quickly after becoming vacant, usually to a desk member looking to upgrade, owner Tyler Ford says.

Hygge, in Third Ward, makes a conference area known as “The Living Room” available for free for local nonprofits, paid for through a sponsorship from OrthoCarolina.

2. Don’t expect tradition

Well before its space opened, Advent started out as a meetup group called “Art, Beer and Creative Folks.” Co-founders Ryan Mitchell and Kevin Giriunas hosted a speaker series at neighborhood art venues and breweries. When the opportunity to create and lease a co-working space happened through Doug Bradley of Bradley Construction, Giriunas and Mitchell already knew about 20 people who presigned to be in the space.

Advent’s path illustrates co-working spaces’ emphasis on community. If that’s not your thing, co-working is probably not for you.

Some spaces use conversation starters, from Hygge’s white board with members’ musings – “What are some new habits you’re trying to start?” – to Advent’s Post-it wall, where members can list anything from feedback to artistic doodles. 809 calls its people “fellow tribe members.”

Just as you’ll find tables and chairs at Hygge, there’s also a day bed and Ikea cushions, pillows and blankets. “This space is to be used how you want to use it,” says Hygge’s Kayla Dugger, who co-owns the space with Garrett Tichy. “You should feel at home at your work.”

And spaces hold regular events, which can include members of the public, too, to build a sense of place.

Level has hosted a networking event for 50 and a talk where a local blogger talked about personal branding. 809 hosted a children’s workshop for Tech Talent South, the coding school.

“We’re in the people business as much as we’re in the chair business,” says Tyler Ford of Industry, which has hosted the TedX Charlotte afterparty. “That’s why they’re here,” and not home or at coffee shop.

3. Pick your perks

Common staples that come with membership include access to kitchen areas and conference room, free coffee, beer and snacks, and secure WiFi. Some tout their parking as well.

Other amenities vary: free use of the printing station at Industry, access to a podcast studio at Advent, and a ping pong table and bikes at C3Lab.

4. Mind your manners

Co-working space organizers say most members instinctively get that work in a universal space, and act accordingly – from putting their dishes in the sink to cleaning their crumbs off the table. “Everyone chips in to make the space look nice,” says Mollie Rogers, center manager at Level. “They want their clients to come in and feel good about it, too.” (As reinforcement, though, Level and other spaces use cleaning crews.)

In case some members need more help getting the point, some places spell it out. 809 members sign a pledge to participate in activities and connect with other members – and “throw old fridge food out.” Their signature is also consent for a background check.

The Hygge Pinky-Promise asks for the first one in to put on some coffee, and the last one out to turn off all the lights.

A basket of plastic yellow ducks is for Advent’s “quack-off rule.” If a member has a duck out on the desk, that’s a do not disturb sign.

Advent co-owner Ryan Mitchell says that’s a lighthearted way of discouraging interaction within a space where interaction is strongly encouraged. There are times when open spaces may prompt some members to start talking quietly. “You should never whisper in here,” says Hygge’s Garrett Tichy.

“People are never concerned that there’s going to be too much noise,” adds Industry’s Ford. “They’re concerned that they are the noise. …Very rarely do we have to say, ‘You really need to tone down your presence here.’”

A partial rundown of local co-working spaces:

▪ Industry

Location: 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.,

When launched: Owner Tyler Ford began his co-working business under a different name in 2010.

Memberships: Start at $99 a month

Key feature: 25,000-square-foot campus in two buildings. Members include BrewPublik, Tech Talent South, collection of creative and technology people, Ford said.

▪ Packard Place

Location: 222 S. Church St.

Launched: 2011

Memberships: Start at $100 a month

Key feature: Members include tech startups and high-growth entrepreneurs. “Co-working is a front door to building their companies, not where they want to stay,” founder Dan Roselli says. Space hosts 400 community events annually, according to Roselli.

▪ 809

Location: 809 W. Hill St., Suite D;

Launched: 2013

Memberships: Referrals only

Key features: Emphasis on community and supporting fellow “tribe members.” Space includes local artwork for sale. Members include Seismic advisory firm, Queen City Forward, a hub for social entrepreneurs, Fortalice cybersecurity firm.

▪ C3Lab

Location: 2525 Distribution St.

Launched: April 2015

Memberships: Monthly work spaces start at $195.

Key features: 25,000-square-foot space includes artist studios. C3 stands for connect, collaborate and create. Hosts CPCC business center seminars. Members include Realtors, social media consultants, entrepreneurs and a horticulture specialist who works out of the warehouse space, building raised beds.

▪ Hygge (say hoo-ga)

Location: 809 W Hill St.

Launched: October 2015

Memberships: Start at $99 a month.

Key features: Free meeting space for nonprofits. Members include Ready at 7 marketing (owned by Hygge owners Garrett Tichy and Kayla Dugger), virtual assistant company, nonprofit, entrepreneurs. Next door neighbors with 809 co-working

▪ Level Office

Location: 227 W. Fourth St.

Launched: October 2015 in Charlotte. National chain

Memberships: Virtual membership (use of mailing address) starts at $50 a month. Desk spaces start at $199 a month.

Key features: Charlotte members include Realtors, digital marketing service. National chain has locations in Chicago, Dallas and Houston.

▪ Advent Coworking

Location: 933 Louise Ave.

Launched: November 2015

Memberships: Monthly access starts at $149.

Key features: Former Kellogg factory includes event space with separate entrance. White walls lined with local art for sale. Desk memberships only; no office memberships.