The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Shared Offices

Don’t be intimidated by shared offices. Here’s our overview of the most popular options.

Sometimes, the home office doesn’t cut it. Whether it’s children, pets, or the comfortable allure of the couch, there’s to end to the distractions vying for your attention.

At the same time, renting an office isn’t always feasible. Besides the long time frame and the paperwork, office leases are downright costly. If your business isn’t already pulling in a significant monthly profit, you’ll have to lean heavily on personal savings if you want to cover a dedicated office space. Worse yet, office leases are usually signed for over a year (sometimes 5-10 years), so it’s a big commitment. You’ll end up losing money on the lease if anything doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Shared offices have emerged as a popular workaround to this issue. Coworking spaces are multiplying across the country, and companies are more eager than ever to sublease their unused space and make some extra cash on the side. With all of the options available nowadays, the decision can be overwhelming. Here’s an overview of a few of the office solutions that are popular with small business owners:

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1) Coworking spaces
With WeWork’s valuation constantly making headlines, it’s safe to say that coworking is the new go-to solution to a small business’s office problems. Members (not tenants) who join a coworking space pay a monthly fee in exchange for office access, including the usual amenities of coffee and wifi. The coworking space is the tenant, so you never have to deal with the complex paperwork of a lease—simply swipe your credit card, and you’re in.

It’s tough to beat the convenience of coworking. Small business owners love the lack of paperwork and the flexibility of a short-term lease. If there’s any downside, it’s that privacy is harder to come by. If you need to make a lot of phone calls or meet privately with clients, you’ll have to rent a dedicated office rather than a desk in an open area, and that’ll make the space more expensive.

Coworking spaces might also look amateurish, especially if you’re working with corporate clients who expect a professional appearance. Conversely, of course, some clients might prefer the startup vibe of most coworking spaces.

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2) Shared private offices
Shared offices are not new, but they’re part of a growing trend. Platforms like ours offer companies the opportunity to list their unused office space, Airbnb-style. Freelancers, small businesses, and early-stage startups take advantage of these listings to obtain office space without bearing the full cost. It also lets them dodge the commitment of a long-term lease. It’s a bit like renting an apartment in an expensive city: if you’re single, many people choose to live with roommates, because it gets you a better location for the price.

Small business owners can use shared office platforms as either a tenant or a space provider. If your business is a bit more established, you can take a risk and sign for your dream office space, knowing that you’ll be able to sublease extra rooms or desks you don’t need. On the opposite end, new businesses can share an office with a larger company if they want to test out a new area or buy time for revenues to grow enough to justify a private space

One benefit to shared offices is that the degree of social interaction is flexible. Some companies will naturally grow close, if they’re both small and in the same field. Other companies will hardly interact, especially if the two office spaces are behind closed doors. You can pick the degree of interaction that works for you.

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3) Shared home offices
Sharing your home office is a somewhat new trend, but it’s likely to grow in the years to come. Platforms like Spacehop in the UK offer users the chance to rent out their homes during the day to workers looking for office space. The workers leave in the evening, so your home is your own when you need it.

So far, shared home offices are targeted at freelancers who work independently. Most homes aren’t big enough to accommodate more than a few people, and they won’t offer the kind of amenities you’d get at a coworking space. Still, they’re an appealing option for those who like the home office aesthetic but who can’t operate out of their own place. Hypothetically, there should also be more locations available than at shared office platforms, since home offices bring work spaces to residential areas. For the time being, however, home office platforms aren’t big enough to offer much of a boost in flexibility.

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4) Temporary offices
Some companies are perfectly content working from home and collaborating remotely, but they need a proper space to meet with clients. It’s not uncommon to join a coworking space to solve this problem, but if all you need is a meeting space, there are better options. Companies like Breather offer short-term office rentals, all the way down to half-hour blocks. They’re more expensive, but they’re perfect for a two-hour meeting with a client. Many office listing platforms also allow you to rent meeting rooms rather than full offices.

One benefit to renting meeting spaces rather than offices is that you can tailor the space to the client. In addition to picking a meeting space close to the client’s home or work, you can go as far as to select a space with a decor or theme that suits the client’s industry. For example, if you’re offering marketing consulting services for a small photography studio, you can rent a meeting room in a creative company’s office or at an artsy coworking space.

If impressing clients is your main reason for renting an office, services like Breather will offer you the most options. Of course, if you find yourself renting spaces so often that it’s more expensive than a private office, you’ll have to think twice.