Coworking usually happens in spaces dedicated to serving the needs of the mobile workforce. These coworking spaces provide access to all the things a freelancer, remote employee, or entrepreneur needs to connect with the local community and be successful.

But just like a cubicle isn't the only place to be productive, a coworking space isn't the only place freelancers can gather to collaborate.

Pop-up coworking spaces; temporary, but conveniently located work spaces, are becoming more popular in high traffic areas. And now it seems non-coworking businesses are also getting in on the action by offering (and in some cases creating) extra space to mobile workers at no charge.

While pop-up coworking spaces are usually only around for a few days during a popular event or promotion, these "retail coworking spaces" are more permanent. Although they're almost always free, these spaces allow businesses to support the savvy coworking crowd in a way that's mutually beneficial.

Read on for some examples of how non-coworking busiensses are reaching out to the coworking community, and decide for yourself whether this is a fad or fabulous.

Wix Lounge is a start-up that offers a free website building tool. Anyone, but especially creatives and small business owners, can use the tool to drag and drop a flash website without writing a single line of code. 

Even more brilliant than the tool itself are the Wix Lounges the company has set up to cater to its audience. These spaces, in New York City and San Francisco, are offered as free coworking facilities and event spaces. From design, business and social media workshops, to fundraisers, techie panels, product launches and fashion shows, the Wix Lounges offer a free community hub for both work and play. Freelancers get to meet the company up close and personal, and perhaps give their website tool a try, or talk to others who've already used it.

Sports Basement – Presidio

With a name like 'Sports Basement' you'd probably expect to find baseball mitts, running shoes, and various other tools for enjoying yourself in the great outdoors. But as the franchise's largest location, the Sports Basement in Presidio also offers its extra space for community use.

"We use the space in the store to benefit the community, member groups and non-profits," said Liz Greenblatt, who works in Sports Basement's marketing department as a client manager. "We don't charge for the space because these groups are generally low on funds and it's our hope that our space allows the group to continue its efforts."

To Greenblatt's knowledge, the Presidio store's community spaces has not yet been utilized for formal coworking, but it's definitely available. For Jelly's or larger coworking gatherings, the store can provide projection screens, LCD projector, speakers, TV, DVD/VCR and hard-wired internet access. If you're interested in coworking at the store, just email them to reserve a space.

Seats and Symbiosis

Wix Lounges and Sports Basement are somewhat unique examples of how a busienss can reach out to an untapped audience while also doing good in the larger community. But in some cases the decision to offer space for coworking comes from a more obvious connection

Every work space, whether it's a large coworking facility or a home office, needs chairs, desks, tables, lamps, file cabinets, and various other tools of the trade. Office furniture companies want to meet those needs, and several have discovered that coworking is a great way to gain exposure among the independent workforce.

"Over the past several years I've had the opportunity to meet with most of the major furniture providers: Haworth, Herman Miller and Steelcase," said Mark Gilbreath, founder and CEO of LiquidSpace. "They are all quite aware of the coworking movement, so no surprise to see them dipping their toes into the water. It's a natural thing for them to do as they observe changes in the work behaviors of their major corporate clients (eg steady shift toward mobility) and seek to apply their knowledge of what makes for a great/productive/healthy/highperformance space to the new places where work happens."

Steelcase has taken a number of experimental steps to understand this new world. They've operated Workspring in Chicago for 2+ years (not a coworking space, but an incredibly cool collaborative workspace that can be booked for off-site collaborative meetings) and also operate the 654 Crowswell coworking space in Grand Rapids Michigan. Steelcase has also taken the initiative to create working partnerships with a number of coworking spaces and incubators in Austin (Link Coworking), Boston (Workbar, MassChallenge) and California (Blankspaces, Sandbox Suites, and RocketSpace).

Haworth, an international provider of high quality office furniture and workspace design services, is also starting to look into the coworking movement. Haworth has been known to allow mobile workers to treat showrooms like a coworking space, giving them a chance to sample the furniture and share immediate feedback with the company. More recently, Haworth helped open a completely new coworking space and business incubator in Michican by donating all of the office furniture, walls and flooring.

Friendly Trend

Are businesses advancing thier own agenda by offering space to coworkers at no charge? Absolutely. But the onus is on the coworking movement to respond in the spirit of collaboration and community. These values minimize competition and nurture the health of small businesses and local economies. If non-coworking businesses understand those goals and want to lend a hand in their own unique way, why exclude them?

While dedicated coworking spaces will always be the heart and soul of the coworking industry, there can never be too many places to plug in and be productive. 

Do you know of a non-coworking business that allows mobile workers to utilize its space? Please share the name and a link in the comments!

Beth Buczynski


Beth Buczynski

Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in beautiful Colorado. She loves sharing so much, she wrote a book about it. "Sharing Is Good" is a practical guide

Things I share: Transportation (I love my bike!) Office space (yay coworking!) Money (Credit Unions do it better!)