Coworking: Doing Business Communally

By  Stina Sieg
December 19, 2013

(Photo by Stina Sieg-KJZZ)
Jenny Poon is the founder of CO+HOOTS, a coworking space in downtown Phoenix. Above, she and her husband, Odeen Domingo, share a smile in CO+HOOTS' communal workspace.

There's cubical culture, and then there's coworking culture. Coworking happens when completely different businesses share a communal workspace. The hope is that they will also share ideas. The concept is popping up around the country and the Valley.

Jenny Poon’s office is inside Phoenix’s first coworking space. CO+HOOTS, that is  pronounced cahoots, has a hip, wide-open layout where a mix of photographers, PR firms and customer service reps work side by side.

Poon is a graphic designer who also founded CO+HOOTs. She said it is all about sharing ideas, sometimes unexpectedly.

“There’s a buzzword around coworking spaces,” Poon said. “It’s serendipity. Everybody talks about serendipity in their space, and can you plan serendipity? I believe you can. It’s all about space planning and culture.”

That is why CO+HOOTS has hardly any walls and a conference room made of glass. Forget doing your work silently and maybe having a conversation around the water cooler. Here, connections happen everywhere.

CO+HOOTS started more than three years ago with only creative types. Now, it is expanded to all kinds of users, about 70 on a typical workday. Poon sees that diversity as a good thing.

“There’s so many things that I don’t know,” Poon said. “And if you surround yourself with people who do know a wide variety of things, imagine what you could learn.”

So, CO+HOOTS gives its users time to get to know each other, even outside the typical workday. Get-togethers like its annual Christmas party have helped shape the space’s reputation for having a cohesive community of young, urban entrepreneurs. Adam Clayton was in from out of town for the day but said he was able to feel part of all that is going on around him.

“Just coming to these different spaces as I’m visiting in the area, I can instantly get plugged in,” Clayton said.

Clayton is such a believer in this kind of space sharing that he started his own coworking business in Boulder, Colo., and typically that is the kind of city where coworking flourishes. San Francisco, Seattle, New York– they are all full young, arty hipsters, open to experiment with different work environments, but is that the only demographic drawn to coworking?

Dennis Corderman does not think so. Across the city in Maryvale, he showed off an empty room, surrounded by glass.

“We’ll walk through this archway, and you’ll see a wide-open room,” Corderman said. “And that’s one thing we like about this facility, is it’s open.”

And in about a month, Corderman hopes this room will become the focal point of JumpStart, otherwise known as west Phoenix’s first coworking environment. Corderman thinks this will be completely new for a neighborhood he calls “quasi-industrial.”

“West-side Phoenix has been marginalized,” Corderman said. “It’s been, what I consider, kind of redlined as lower socio-economic area, that’s not dynamic, and that’s simply not true.”

JumpStart’s prices will start low, around $50 a month ­in the communal office, and Corderman hopes that will entice people in the community who currently work from home. He said he offers something you cannot get working alone.

“You sit down with a group of people, like-minded. There’ll be a lot of like-minded people who are trying to get businesses started,” Corderman said. “There’s a lot of magic that comes from kicking around ideas.”

He added that as businesses take off, they can graduate to the offices that surround JumpStart’s central, communal workspace. They are pricier but also a bit more private.