All in This Together

In the midst of an uptick in their industry, three local coworking companies opt for collaboration over competition.

The coworking industry had a big year in 2017, and its momentum is carrying on into the new year.

In 2017, Fort Worth saw coworking space/coffee shop hybrid Craftwork Coffee Co. open a second location along Magnolia Avenue. Common Desk later opened in Crockett Row at West 7th. Then in 2018, The Shops at Clearfork will welcome We Work, a New York-based coworking company that will open its fourth North Texas location, which will have the capacity to hold 850 members. Craftwork, too, plans to open a third location in The Foundry District near West Seventh Street.

But as coworking grows in the city, three local players — Common Desk, Craftwork and Ensemble Coworking — are not looking to compete, but rather collaborate, hosting events together and referring prospective tenants to one another’s spaces. They held their first collaborative event in October, when the three participated in a coworking panel at Common Desk, moderated by TECH Fort Worth’s Hayden Blackburn. Craftwork CEO Riley Kiltz, Ensemble co-founder and chief connector Tamara Payne, and Common Desk co-founder and CEO Nick Clark discussed what coworking is, what makes each space different and where coworking is headed.

The three companies are hoping to host more events and have other coworking spaces get involved. According to Payne, this is just the beginning.

“If we approach this from a collaborative mindset, which is what coworking is all about, then we can actually better refer people to each other and, therefore, better serve small businesses and the entrepreneurial community in the Fort Worth area,” she says.

According to Common Desk marketing coordinator Megan Kaye Donahoe, part of the reason why coworking has grown is due to advancements in technology and the internet; thus, more people are able to learn skills remotely and work from home. According to employee engagement software company Officevibe, 40 percent of the workforce will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors or solopreneurs by 2020. Consequently, the need for space to work is also increasing.

However, despite the growth, Kiltz says Fort Worth’s market is “not necessarily saturated” — while several local companies may offer coworking, they collectively only represent a small footprint of the entrepreneurs and startups in the area.

“The freelance/remote workforce represents 20-30 percent of our labor force, so even with the influx of coworking spaces, there should be more demand than there is supply,” he says.

That’s why Craftwork, Ensemble and Common Desk are finding it better to work together and “lift up all of our brands for the cause of coworking,” Donahoe says. Another way they plan to collaborate is by referring potential members to one another if a space happens to not be a good fit.

Each space has its distinct characteristics when it comes to office design and employee culture, says Payne, who started Ensemble with co-founder and chief activator Dawn Shannon. Ensemble, for example, has a more “homey” feel. Craftwork, a smaller space, is designed with a minimalist vibe, and members tend to be “on the go” and like to “knock out their work and get in and out in an efficient manner,” Kiltz says. Common Desk, the largest of the three at 13,000 square feet, is designed with an industrial feel, while its culture offers a mix of independent workers and large, collaborative teams.

“It’s impossible for one brand and one space to meet every need that’s out there,” Donahoe says. “Every company is different, and every professional has a different set of needs and also just a different personality. Even though we would love to be able to host everyone and meet every single need, we know that’s not the reality.”

The other issue is awareness — some members of the community still don’t quite understand what coworking is, Kiltz says. Craftwork, Ensemble and Common Desk hope to better educate the community through networking and events, such as its coworking panel.

But what makes a coworking space desirable as a tenant? Will Churchill, who owns the building at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Henderson Street, where Craftwork is located, says it depends. Craftwork, in particular, works on Magnolia because it brings a balance of traffic — high traffic in early mornings through its coffee shop, low traffic in the day through its coworking space, and low traffic at night (therefore driving traffic toward other restaurants in the area). Coworking spaces also tend to bring in a younger clientele, Churchill says. According to Officevibe, 78 percent of coworkers are under the age of 40.

The key to a coworking space’s success, Kiltz says, is having great companies within the space.

“As an operator, you just have to set them up for success and let your members take it from there,” he says.

Craftwork, Ensemble and Common Desk are, after all, relatively new companies themselves. According to Kiltz, local businesses quite simply have that effect on one another.

“They’re all fighting for excellence, and they want Fort Worth to be something special, so when one of them succeeds, we're all able to celebrate,” Kiltz says. “That’s really special.”