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Originally published November 9, 2010 at 4:22 PM | Page modified November 10, 2010 at 8:20 AM

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Coworking: You could work from home but don't want to

This business model, branded "coworking" by San Francisco software engineer Brad Neuberg in 2005, is growing in the postindustrial economy, where the viability of telecommuting grows alongside the development and spread of mobile-telecommunication technologies.

Seattle Times staff reporter

When Robyn Welch followed her husband from New York to Seattle, her job as an urban planner followed her. She telecommuted from home for three months before she decided to quit — her home. Instead of being liberated from a daily routine of congested traffic and stuffy office buildings, Welch felt isolated and stifled working alone in her apartment.

"Everyone thinks that working at home is ideal, until you do it," Welch said. "I was going crazy not having anyone to communicate with."

Her solution was only a block away. Walking through her Capitol Hill neighborhood among Boylston Avenue's narrowly packed residences and eclectic small business, Welch stumbled upon the Office Nomads sandwich board, and after a brief look inside decided to move in.

Office Nomads is one of Seattle's first "coworking" businesses that rents office space to freelancers and telecommuters. On Oct. 14, Office Nomads celebrated its third anniversary and owners Jacob Sayles and Susan Evans announced their plan to open another Seattle-area site in the near future.

"I don't know that I'd even still be with my company if I had to work from home," Welch said after more than two years of membership. "I wish that there were more of these kind of places out there for people."

There is every indication that there will be. There are at least seven coworking spaces operating in the Seattle area, including one in Eastlake and one in Maple Leaf that have opened in the last five months.

This business model, branded "coworking" by San Francisco software engineer Brad Neuberg in 2005, is growing in the postindustrial economy, where the viability of telecommuting grows alongside the development and spread of mobile-telecommunication technologies. When a laptop or smartphone can make a multifunctional office out your living room, car or closet, environment becomes a choice.

"It's a question of: 'Does it make sense to go in an office? Does it make sense to sit at home and work? Does it make sense to do it at a coffee shop?' " said Matt Westervelt, the owner of Metrix Create: Space, a coworking company on Capitol Hill that caters to artists, techies and tinkerers. Westervelt recently celebrated his own anniversary and company expansion.

"I think there will continue to be more coworking spaces; it's the future," said Westervelt.

Office Nomads provides the staples: desks, chairs, printers, fax machines, conference rooms, a kitchen and Wi-Fi. And, there's also a shower and a lounging area with a TV, couches and board and video games. Local art lines the walls, and indie music plays softly overhead.

Office Nomads has 75 members, and on any given day 30 or so can be seen at their desks. Different membership levels have different rates. "Residents" like Welch are given an electronic key card, assigned a fixed office space and afforded complete access to the site, any day at any time, for which they pay $475 a month. Without a membership a space at a desk and use of the facility will run $25 a day.

Many of the occupations of Office Nomads' co-workers are those newly created in the information age, such as bloggers, software programmers, web designers and graphic designers.

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Others have just been set free by the advances in information technology, which include an ornithologist, urban planner and private investigator, as well as copy writers, magazine writers and publishers.

A common question for Sayles and Evans is how they handle intraoffice conflicts. They answer it hasn't been an issue.

"It's not like a coffee shop where you have to lock down your stuff before you go to the bathroom," Evans said. "There's sort of this agreement that happens when people walk through the door, and there's also an agreement they sign to be respectful of others, that kind of gets rid of that concern."

Coworking companies like Office Nomads profit by getting a better rate for taking a larger space and charging members a premium. The tenants in turn benefit from rent that is lower than if they had to pay separately, flexibility, good management and a community, said Adam Simon, president of Real Assets Property Services that leases the space to Office Nomads.

Eastlake Mail owner Ryan Murphy was trying to figure out what to do with extra space when he heard about coworking.

"It's a great situation for everybody, it brings in needed revenue for the space, and it provides office space for freelancers at a lower rate than what they would have to pay," said Murphy, who opened Coworking Eastlake four months ago, converting almost half the 2,000 square feet of Eastlake Mail.

Sayles and Evans have created a website called CoworkingSeattle.org. for users and businesses to network. "A lot of people don't understand how much of their community needs were being met at the company until they've lost the company and realized those conversations over the water cooler were important to their well being," Sayles said.

Jesus Chavez: jchavez@seattletimes.com

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