CoworkBuffalo crafts community with office space

Aug 14, 2012

Working from home can be lonely or full of distractions.  And taking a laptop or tablet to the coffee shop has drawbacks, too. Ever try finding an electrical outlet amongst all the tables and chairs?

Now, CoworkBuffalo is offering a solution by inviting telecommuters to gather together in one office space.

Organizers are trying to forge a sense of community while increasing productivity.

"Dad is working"

Jim Brandt’s young children are out of school and running around his house, which doubles as his office.

“It’s summer vacation for them so it’s not fair to say to them that you have to be totally quiet because dad is working,” he says.

As a computer programmer with a job based in Boston – but a family based in Buffalo – Brandt needed a little peace and quiet to get some work done.

“It’s nice to have a spot downtown as a base, an office,” he says.

That feeling resonates with Nick Quaranto, who has a needy Husky puppy. 

“I have a dog and I’m sure other people have similar distractions. Some people call them kids," Quaranto quips. “People that are used to working from home, myself included, want a space they can go to and actually talk to and see real people."

So Quaranto and a few of his friends in the western New York's tech community began looking for office space. 

"You wouldn't sleep at your office"

After a few months of scouring real estate listings and touring spaces, CoworkBuffalo was finally born in the early summer of 2012.

It's a unique office space in the city where workers can bring in computers, plop down at a desk and hide from distractions.

There’s solid wifi, promises of snacks on the website, a great view of downtown Buffalo and an old wooden Bell phone booth to get some privacy for calls or Skype chats.

The space is designed to be an escape for those used to working from home.

“Your home becomes this office feeling. You wouldn’t sleep over at your office, if you could avoid it. Work is work, and when I leave it, I’m leaving it. Home is where I live,” says Kevin Purdy, co-founder of CoworkBuffalo.

Anyone can join. For $100 a month, a member can come all day, every day. $75 buys 10 visits. Or for drop ins, it’s a flat $10 – making it one of the cheapest co-working spaces in the country.

CoworkBuffalo is a business, but its organizers aren't seeking profit above all else. Money can’t buy the sense of community the space creates, says Quaranto.

“That’s something you’d obviously get in an office. You’d just run over to someone’s cube and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ Quaranto says.

Purdy jumps in, "And gossip. The important aspect of gossip in any office." 

CoworkBuffalo has the feel of a dorm lounge. There’s scant furniture and quirky wall fixings, like conference name badges placed inside frames from the thrift store.

The group's next goal is to spruce the place up.

‘College students have one up on us. They already have a couch and we want one,” Purdy cracks.

Quaranto adds, “That’s the next step from here, to make it a little more homey.”

Rituals

It’s quiet here, but not library quiet. Many of the dozen people working today wear headphones to tune into a CoworkBuffalo-specific Internet radio station.

“It goes from country. Not country. Never country,” Purdy quips. “It moves around a lot during the day. The other day we were on a weird reggae kick.”

And there are rituals. Purdy walks over to a large beaker you’d find in a science lab sitting next to a small digital scale, and an airtight jar of coffee beans.

There’s an exact formula for this twice-daily routine.

“I’m aiming for 52 grams,” Purdy says, as he pours the beans into a manual burr grinder. “To make about 30 ounces of coffee. That’s enough for four people.”

CoworkBuffalo takes its coffee seriously. This meticulous brewing process is part of its culture and charm.

Purdy grinds the artisan roasted beans by hand for now, but thanks to better than expected attendance at CoworkBuffalo, he promises to invest in an electric model soon.

“[Grinding] is good calorie burning, especially if you’ve been sitting all day, which I am,” Purdy quips.

Ironically, the office space actually sits above one of the busiest coffee shops in western New York. 

If CoworkBuffalo is ever desperate for new members, Purdy jokes, he can just go downstairs and wrangle those he sees working on laptops.

CoworkBuffalo's wifi is definitely better, he says. And the coffee might be.

Editor's Note: Here's some additional background from geekpreneur on getting more out of co-working arrangments.

For more from the Innovation Trail and Daniel Robison, visit their website. You can also follow Robison on Twitter @robisonrobison.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between five upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.