Skip to main content

Next phase of working at home: Leaving home

  • Story Highlights
  • Restless at-home workers improve by collaborating face to face
  • Home-based workers say "coworking" balances freedom, teamwork
  • Coworking groups are meeting or forming in more than 40 U.S. cities
  • The trend comes as single-person businesses increase
  • Next Article in Living »
By Thom Patterson
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

ROSWELL, Georgia (CNN) -- More than a decade after the Internet allowed millions of people to work at home, the next phase of telecommuting involves, well, not working at home.

Coworking won't replace the traditional office, but it fills a need, said Less Distracted's Tracey Weidner.

Web developer Toby Ho, left, has joined a coworking group called "Jelly" in Roswell, Georgia.

Organized "coworking" -- the concept of working solo alongside like-minded independents -- has spread to dozens of cities.

The irony of coworking isn't lost on organizers, including Kevin Bachman, who set up a group north of Atlanta as part of an informal Web-based network called Jelly.

"The reason people work alone, is because they're looking for freedom," said Bachman, a 34-year-old Web developer who telecommutes part time. "It may be ironic that you crave isolation, but you also want to be socially interactive with others like you." See how Jelly works together »

Once a month, Bachman's group takes over a room provided by Tony's American Grille & Tap. A handful of home-based Internet workers hunch over laptops writing code, tweaking administration systems or enhancing databases.

"It's a great way to get out of your bubble," said Bachman.

Tony's doubles as a neighborhood sports bar at night, complete with a "beer pong" game table and projection TVs. But during the day, this location takes on a more business-like tone as colleagues help each other work, said Randall, a freelance database programmer who wouldn't give his last name.

"I've probably gotten some tips just today from people that had the same problems that I've had," he said. "So, all-in-all it's been a productive day and it's not even 2 o'clock yet."

Coworking also provides an oasis for nomadic coffee-bar campers who struggle to collaborate among a random crowd.

"Starbucks was a place to get out of the house and be around other people," said Sherry Heyl, a Jelly coworker and home-based social media consultant. "But you can't turn to the person next to you at Starbucks and say, 'Can you look at this proposal and tell me if it looks all right or check it for typos?'"

Coworking is gaining popularity as number of single-person businesses in the United States is skyrocketing.

The nation added nearly 4 million one-person businesses between 2000 and 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Back in 2005, Web programmer Javan Makhmali said he was "missing the work atmosphere to get me in the zone -- to get work done" at his home office in Portland, Oregon. So he and a few friends created a coworking cooperative and called it -- appropriately -- Less Distracted.

"We found a space in a cool warehouse, put an ad on craigslist and Less Distracted was pretty much born like that," said Makhmali, a 27-year-old computer programmer.

By early 2006, a 1,500 square foot space in the North Coast Seed building was filled with more than a dozen other programmers and designers looking to break out of their home offices.

In exchange for a $100 deposit and $150 per month for utilities, tenants get 24/7 use of DSL Internet, Wi-Fi, a kitchenette and a hang-out area with couches for meetings and relaxing.

The Less Distracted Web site describes it as "your own space that's not in your living room and certainly not a cube."

Ryan Tyler, another original tenant, said coworking made a huge improvement in his productivity, while allowing him to make quite a few friends and great business contacts through the office.

The idea that home-based workers are returning to officelike environments isn't surprising to close followers of the commercial real estate business.

"For at least 50 years 'experts' have said technology will eliminate office demand," said real estate consultant Prof. Peter Linneman of the Wharton School of Business. "But the evidence clearly shows that we use ever more office space as technology advances."

Coworking suits the lifestyle of Portland's many free-spirited self-employed workers, said 39-year-old Tracey Weidner, an independent private investigator who's been managing Less Distracted for about a year. "It won't replace the corporate mentality of a traditional office, but it fills a need."

Makhmali displayed some of that free-spiritedness when he started holding movie screenings on the warehouse's seventh-floor roof. Safety concerns prompted the building's owner to close down the makeshift theater.

"The working vibe was something that we all created just by being there," said Makhmali, who has since moved to California. "We all encouraged each other to stay focused and keep working."


But Makhmali's Less Distracted experience didn't create a permanent convert to coworking. These days, instead of coworking, he's simply working.

Makhmail said it's "a real job," programming for an education-based Los Angeles software firm ... in the company's office.

CNN's Curt Merrill contributed to this report.

All About TelecommutingWireless Technology

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print