The Temptation of Co-Working Spaces

Last October, NeueHouse opened its co-working space in the 1938 CBS Radio Building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

Technology has upended where we work. The line between work and play has been blurred, and the difference between the office and home has all but disappeared.

As a result, there’s a new class of white-collar workers (or no collar, to be precise) who roam the earth looking for places to get their jobs done.

Some of them work from home, curled up on the couch or in a home office — maybe with a drone hovering nearby. Others camp out at expensive cafes, refilling their mugs of fancy coffee throughout the day. (Yes, I’m referring to myself.)

But increasingly, these untethered employees are gathering in a new kind of office known as the co-working space.

Surely, you’ve heard of these places. But their numbers have multiplied across the country in the last few years, filling a niche for those who need more than a cafe, but less than an office.

They now come in a wide range of options. Some are fancy; some are not. Some require memberships; some do not. Some target technology workers; others are for writers or small businesses. And in the Los Angeles area, there seems to be a co-working option for every neighborhood and every profession.

West Hollywood has WeWork, the start-up that is now in almost two dozen cities worldwide (it’s also estimated to be worth $10 billion, though many believe it’s drastically overvalued). Memberships are $45 to $450 a month, and the diverse clientele includes accountants and tech entrepreneurs.

Beverly Hills has the Soho House, a private club that courts the Hollywood crowd (and can sometimes be a bit of a scene). Membership has to be approved by a committee and costs $1,800 a year.

Santa Monica has Coloft, at $35 to $395 a month, and is popular with tech workers. It offers search engine optimization and programming classes, and tries to sound hip by turning its name into a verb (for example, “We were colofting last night”).

These have been joined by even newer and hipper co-working spaces, including RVCC, which stands for the Reserve Vault City Club. This club occupies the old Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Los Angeles, costs $88 a month, offers free coffee and feels more like a speakeasy than an office space. (Sticking with that secret feel, RVCC proudly doesn’t have a social media presence or a website.)

And the newest is NeueHouse, a beautifully designed co-working space in Hollywood, in the 1938 CBS Radio Building on Sunset Boulevard. Opened last October, NeueHouse, which has branches in New York and London, puts a huge emphasis on cultural events, including Q. and A. sessions with musicians, writers and entrepreneurs. Memberships are $200 and $1,250 per month, depending on space.

Before you rush out to join a co-working space, there are pros and cons to consider.

Some believe working away from a traditional office improves productivity. A study published last year in the journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics examined Ctrip, a 16,000-employee Chinese travel agency, where call-center employees were randomly assigned to work in either the office or home. Those who worked from home were 13 percent more productive, the report found. When Ctrip gave all its workers the option to work from home, productivity grew even further, to 22 percent.

Another study published last year in the journal Sleep Health, found that people who had flexible work schedules slept better than those who had to report to the office at specific times.

But there are studies that raise doubts about working remotely. “How Effective Is Telecommuting?,” published last year in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that working from home can make people feel sad. The report says that this is likely because of the social and professional isolation experienced from being home alone for too long.

This is where co-working spaces seem to fit in.

NeueHouse, for example, has two restaurants, a coffee shop and meeting rooms. There are also rows of desks equipped with headphones for those who want to work alone, and open offices for those who want to work in a collaborative setting.

When I spent some time at NeueHouse last week, I saw waiters rushing to and fro with coffees and pastries, dropping them off at members’ desks or offices. It looked like a hotel with room service, but no beds. The space seemed open and simple, as in, there wasn’t a lot of fuss (unlike some other spaces I’ve tried out). Though I could see the $7 parking fee at NeueHouse easily adding up.

“Given the changes in the economy, and the changes in the attitude around work, we felt like it was the ideal time to pull out a blank piece of paper and rethink what the ideal work space would be for people,” said Joshua Abram, a founder and chief executive of NeueHouse. Mr. Abram added that he sees NeueHouse as not only a place for people to work, but also a place to network and interact with other creative minds.

If NeueHouse is about connecting people, then RVCC is the opposite. The founder, Chris Adams, said that “we now live in a world of over-connections,” and he wanted to create a “sanctuary-like space” that allowed people to work in solitude.

“These days, our culture is changing so much,” Mr. Adams said. “There are no regular work hours anymore, or socializing hours, so we wanted to set a platform for whatever you want to do. So if you’re working late at night, and no cafes are open, you can come here and get a cup of coffee or an old-fashioned, and just work.”

After trying out of dozens of spaces in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, I realized I want to join them all. Which, like wanting to date more than one person, can become very expensive.

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