Co-Working in the WRV
Some Champion New Co-Working Spaces As Future of Economy
What do an editor, a midwife, a writing tutor, and an administrative specialist all have in common? All self-employed, they are also all tenants in the region’s two coworker spaces—Bethel Works, at the Arnold Block in Bethel, and Randolph Co Worker Offices.
Typically found in more populated corners of the nation, coworker spaces involve several or more independent workers using offices in a shared space. In 2018 in central Vermont, this new working paradigm is being eyed as a conceivable antidote to empty storefronts in village downtowns.
Randolph real estate owner Jesse “Sam” Sammis said that he took his long-for-sale building off the market in order to pursue this idea. Last winter, the engineering firm Sanborn & Head relocated from 2 South Main Street to an office in Burlington, and Sammis was looking for ways to use the offices that company had occupied.
Visits to coworker spaces in New York City, Greenwich, Conn.; Burlington, and Montpelier—and Bethel Works—helped Sammis set up his own coworker business in the heart of Randolph. He is confident that despite their relative novelty, coworker spaces have the potential to “be a big success,” he said while standing in the reception area at 2 South Main Street.
Common spaces like the small kitchen and a sitting area are where Sammis hopes tenants will mingle, when they are not behind their desks in their private offices, which have their own glass doors and receive lots of natural light from Merchants Row.
Coworkers in Bethel also benefit from a nice view; theirs is of the rushing Third Branch of the White River. Instead of the sleek feel of its Randolph counterpart, Bethel Works claims a cozy, warm atmosphere. In the basement of the Arnold Block, the row of brightly painted offices resembles an “antique village,” to use the words of the building’s co-owner Tom Warhol.
The building and business he owns with Lindley Brainard, Lylee Rauch-Kacenski, and his wife, Lisa Warhol, is a multipurpose facility which opened its doors late last winter.
Serving as an exercise studio, a conference and meeting facility, and soon as a commercial kitchen, Arnold Block is a for-profit organization that functions with the goal of “enlivening [the] downtown and Bethel in general” and “driving economic development in the region,” Brainard said.
“Our whole model is flexibility and integration,” Brainard went on. In addition to flexible hours (coworkers come and go when they want), leases at the Arnold Block come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from daily drop-in use, to punch cards, to month-long leases of a dedicated office. Members are also able to hold meetings in the building’s conference room for a limited amount of time each month.
“You get access to the kitchen. There’s a bathroom with a full shower—the concept being, you could take your work-out class, come down and shower, have your business meeting, and still get a full work day in,” Brainard said.
Though Sammis’ Randolph space is more traditional in its amenities, its mostly year-long leases, like those in Bethel, include access to high-speed wireless internet, a photocopy machine, common areas, and two meeting rooms—amenities that afford independent workers a professional environment, Sammis said.
The tenants themselves—and their uses of the building—range widely.
Windsor-Rutland legislative candidate Rob McFadden leased an office in Bethel during the campaign. Luce Farms, out of Stockbridge, has been using a punch-card membership to access the workspace. Donna Bryan is an employee of a Montpelier insurance company, but works out of Bethel, closer to home.
For April Spinks, who owns AHS Administrative Services, it was the need for a quiet office that informed her decision to rent a space at 2 South Main Street.
“I was doing my business out of my home,” she said, “and I found that I wasn’t getting a lot of work done.”
Kim Gifford said she values the privacy offered by the office she shares in her hometown of Bethel. As a professional writing tutor who for years set up shop at West Lebanon’s Borders café, Gifford eventually rented space in White River Junction before signing a lease at the Arnold Block. She pointed to affordability and flexibility as the key draws for freelancers, like herself, to coworker spaces. Rent at Arnold Block and Randolph Co Worker Offices includes all utilities, a factor that is expensive for independent workers to take on.
As she is often on the road to conduct interviews and teach classes, Gifford explained that she doesn’t “need to spend hundreds of dollars for a traditional office space, but there are times when I need that private getaway to meet with clients, write, take phone calls and definitely teach.”
On the other hand, Bethel-based editor and ghostwriter Sheila Trask, who shares an office with Gifford and a health coach, was seeking to be around others during the work day. Although her job affords her many opportunities to video conference with people around the globe, Trask said she was “getting pretty lonely” working from her house. Aside from having more of a work community now, the writer said, she has also benefited from the fast, reliable internet at Arnold Block—something her home office did not have.
While Gifford and Trask deal primarily in the realm of language arts, Meghan Sperry is using her space at the Randolph Co Worker Offices to start her own nurse-midwife practice. Previously employed by Gifford Medical Center and then working per-diem jobs, Sperry needed an inexpensive office to be able to see patients, she said.
She hopes to “bring more community into health care” and that the downtown location will help “get [her] name out,” she said in a phone interview. Having other clinicians in the coworker space was also appealing to Sperry—her neighbor down the hall is a mental health counselor, and, in December, a family therapist will join them.
Networking is one of the incentives to join a coworker space, according to Sammis and Warhol. So far, in its initial stages, the atmosphere at the Randolph Co Worker Offices has been “pretty quiet and mellow,” Sperry said. However, as this unconventional workspace model continues to take root in the White River Valley, she thinks it will “show people that you can own your own business, and you can be successful, and [that] there are other people doing it.”