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Working from home driving you crazy? Co-working can offer sanity, companionship

Sandbox Columbus - Coworking Community. Photos Submitted.
Sandbox Columbus - Coworking Community. Photos Submitted.

Some people dream about working from home. They imagine starting the day after a slow breakfast, or firing up a computer in their PJs. It's true that working from home offers freedom and flexibility. But it can also offer tedium, isolation and distraction, things that don't exactly enhance productivity.

For some, it turns out that independence isn't all it's cracked up to be. People are social animals, and for those Ohioans who feel the walls of their home office closing in, coworking with other independent workers is an economically viable alternative to staying at home or leasing an office.

There are at least a half-dozen new coworking spaces across Ohio that are meeting emotional, business and economic needs for freelancers, consultants and entrepreneurs. It allows independent workers -- from graphic designers to lawyers -- to have dedicated office space at an affordable cost. Each space is different and offers various amenities. In general, all offer a desk or cubical, access to wifi, a phone line, scanner and fax, conference room and kitchen. Fees range depending on the quality of those amenities, but full-time access can range from $200 to $550 a month.

Coworking communities generally offer memberships for part-time or full-time use of the space, depending on a person's budget or need. Some offer drop-in rates where, for a few dollars, you can spend the day there or use a conference room to host a meeting. People cowork for different reasons. Sometimes it's purely economic; it's cheaper than buying or leasing space alone, but offers professionalism. For others social interaction, business education and idea feedback play a big role in the decision to cowork.

Ohio's coworking spaces have emerged over the last couple of years. Tech entrepreneur Dave Hunegnaw founded Sandbox Columbus in the spring of 2009. Sandbox sits on Short North, in the heart of the city's art district, and has nine full-time and a handful of part-time members, Hunegnaw says.

"I've travelled quite a bit in the tech startup world, and noticed over the years that there are some really successful coworking spaces in larger markets. So, I thought, 'Why not try one here and see if this is a concept Columbus would embrace.' We've had great success in the last 19 months. We've hosted an event with the mayor, and the governor held a fundraiser here. It has been really well received," Hunegnaw says.

The concept proved so successful that Sandbox opened another office nearby with Sandbox Gahanna.

In addition to work space, Sandbox Columbus is also part of a bikeshare program that encourages members to get outside the office.

"We are in a really great community. It's a densely populated and walkable community. We have arts and entertainment businesses and restaurants here. The idea is that (members) can park their cars and use the bikes to do whatever it may be that they want," he says.
Since starting Sandbox, a real sense of community has formed in the space that extends past work, Hunegnaw added.

"When we all came together under one roof, no one knew each other. After a few weeks we all started talking and working on projects together. It goes beyond the space; it's more than just a desk," he says.

Cincinnati Coworks co-founder Gerard Sychay got his space up and running this summer. Today it has seven full-time members. Cincinnati Coworks is located in a 100-year old space in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, and shares a building with some retailers and apartment dwellers.

The Cincinnati space currently is mostly comprised of web developers, Sychay says. Before launching Cincinnati Coworks, organizers actually visited other coworking communities including Sandbox and Qwirk, also in Columbus.

Sychay hopes the space will soon become a place where communitywide business, social and other events take place. But for now, creating an environment where members feel welcome takes center stage. Members recently have started small social and business related meetings including a movie night and JavaScript and WordPress user groups.

"The way the economy is there are more freelancers and self-employed. They need a place for support, to talk to people. If you want a city to be friendly to these types of people, there needs to be a coworking presence," Sychay says.

Kelly Brown, co-founder of Office Space Coworking in Akron, has a mission to increase awareness and acceptance of coworking in Ohio. Brown, COO of an online niche publication company, says initially some were weary of the coworking concept.

"People didn't know what we were first, and wanted know what we do," Brown says.

Now two years in, the space has 40 part-time and full-time members. Early this year a sister office opened in Cuyahoga Falls

"When we were first thinking about getting this going in the northeast Ohio area, we did some surveys. We went to coffee shops, talked to people on laptops and asked them if it was something they'd be interested in. We got an overwhelming response and opened in downtown Akron," Brown says.

Office Space offers both an open coworking space and private offices for people who want a more tradition setting. Like all coworking arrangements, members fees help cover expenses including rent, electricity and coffee.

The Akron space is in a historic building, which had been sitting unused for several years. This arrangement benefits both the workers and the building owner, who supports the concept and now has a steady source of revenue.

Brown says coworking has offered a sense of comradery and been a source business help for members.

"I've seen members graduate to fulltime space, to hiring employees," he says. "I think it's important for anyone who works independently to find a group of peers that they can work with. It's really easy to start a coworking community. It's not brain science. I wouldn't do it for the profit, but I would do it for the connections."

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