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Shared workspace is solution for on-the-run workers

By Cindy Atoji Keene

For the increasingly mobile workforce untethered to a desk, there’s nothing wrong with a workstation at your local coffee shop, said entrepreneur Charlie Weisman. He himself logged countless hours using cafes as free office space. With a latte refill just steps away and free Wi-fi connection, Weisman was able to park his laptop for hours, avoiding the distractions of working from home while not having to make the commitment of leasing a Dilbert-like cubicle. But “I always felt I had a little sign above me that said, ‘I work here because I can’t afford my own office,’ said Weisman, 36, a former civil engineer who later turned to arts advocacy. The little things – like making a phone call while a blender whirred in the background – reminded him constantly that he was definitely not in an office environment.

When Weisman started planning Oficio four years ago as a communal shared workspace, he said that co-working was still a new concept on the east coast. But a start-up community of developers, designers and indie professionals have since latched onto the rent-a-desk concept. Opened this winter, Oficio offers a swanky address to put on business cards (Newbury Street) as well as a collaborative boutique retreat to meet with clients or just hook into the fax machine or printer. While some shared work spaces have even evolved to offer studio and video editing bays, massage/body amenities, showers, and 24/7 access, Oficio focuses on the standard accouterments of office life as “your home office away from home” with a day pass for $25; rent-a-conference room for $60; or full-time membership $299, which gives unlimited access to the space.

Q: Why are more workers doing their work outside the usual office setting?
A: Most freelancers today can run a business with a laptop, cell phone, and a Wi-fi connection. This translates to being able to work practically anywhere and gives freelancers and entrepreneurs the freedom to choose where they work. Renting a traditional private office is just not feasible for businesses just starting out, especially in the Back Bay.

Q: There are several shared office spaces in Boston and Cambridge. How is yours different?
A: Oficio was designed to be a boutique space. The goal was to create a modern and minimalist design that would take advantage of the great natural light and open space. We really wanted to stand out in terms of the space’s design, from the leather lounge chairs, laptop counters and private phone booths to rotating work from local artists on our walls, which adds to the décor. I was really looking for a space I’d want to work out of myself.

Q: What went into the planning of Oficio that people may not think of?
A: Just like most startups, there was a never-ending to-do list in the planning stages. I founded Oficio with my longtime friend, Nima Yadollahpour, an architect here in Boston (ONY Architecture). I think people may not realize the daily battles that are involved. Everything that seems insignificant now, like the coffee machines or logo design, were major battles. But as long as the battles aren’t physical, going back and forth on items in the planning stages is definitely a healthy process.

Q: An alternative workspace environment is only beneficial if it’s managed the right way. How do you track how the program is working?
A: Choosing membership software was one of our most difficult tasks since there really isn’t much out there yet exclusively for managing shared office spaces. We ended up going with gym membership software, which is well-established and gives us all the necessary tools to schedule our private meeting rooms, evaluate the numbers, and manage the memberships.

Q: What sort of requests have you received?
A: We’ve had a lot of different requests for the private rooms, from psychics to plastic surgeons, but most of it is typical company operations.

Q: What was the motivation behind offering events, such as networking, happy hours and after-work excursions?
A: When so many people work alone, the social aspect is important for a co-working space. We have so many interesting and diverse member businesses that it's great to see a community develop when relationships are formed and members start helping each other.

Q. How do you deal with gum under the desks?
A: We have little trash bins at each desk to avoid this, and so far it's worked. I just looked under all the tables and there wasn't a single piece of chewed gum.

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