New ways of working in West Michigan

For an increasing percentage of the local workforce, going to work no longer means commuting to a corporate office from nine to five. John Rumery takes a look at some non-traditional environments in this two-part series that showcases West Michigan's best co-working spaces as well as some unusual mobile working arrangements.
Mark Custer, owner of the newest co-working space in West Michigan, outlines many of the dynamics of the new world of work in his April blog post. Perhaps most interesting is the trend towards an entirely different style of working: “Research points to a workforce where mobile workers make up 40 percent of the nation's workforce. That number will increase to 60 percent by 2020.”

Sometimes referred to as remote workers or co-workers, mobile workers are distant (but direct) descendants from Peter’s Drucker’s “knowledge workers," a term he coined around 1959, describing individuals who “think for a living."   

Today’s knowledge workers include designers, developers, programmers, artists, writers, consultants, freelancers, entrepreneurs, engineers and independent contractors. They work for multi-national corporations, small businesses, startups and themselves. But they don’t work from a corporate office. Instead, their workspace might be a home office, coffee shop, business center or one of the many emerging “third spaces” known as co-working spaces.

For those who aren’t part of the scene, the concept can be discombobulating, like being untethered in zero gravity from the mothership. Where should I go? What do I need to know? How do I get sh*t done?  

Well, there's an app that can partly answer those questions, but the best place to learn about being a mobile worker in West Michigan is to ask those who have already taken the leap into the wild, wild world of the mobile workplace.

Worklab by CusterThe Co-Working Spaces
Worklab by Custer, 99 Monroe Building, Grand Rapids
The newest co-working space in Grand Rapids is Worklab by Custer. The facility features the latest Steelcase and Coalesse products designed specifically for remote workers. 

Worklab’s founder Mark Custer says research into how work is being done, especially at the corporate level, was instrumental in the design of his co-working space. “The individual worker does not need as much heads-down work as in the past," he says. "Today’s process and workflow requires more group work so there is a shrinking of the individual workspaces and a growing of the “we” space.” 

This philosophy is evident throughout Worklab. There is co-working for individuals, meeting space, and event space. Members also have access to private offices, functional furnishings, killer views of downtown, coffee and healthy snacks, concierge services, a fitness center, high-speed data, copy and printing services, and an on-site host. What more do you need?
Although anyone can become a member at Worklab, Custer says their target market is directed at corporate workers and business travelers (Worklab is accessible to downtown hotels through the skywalk tunnel systems).

The Vibe: comfortable and social
“We want our members to feel very comfortable. Like the J.W. Marriott,” Custer says. “You should expect a very social environment similar to a college library.”

Pro tip #1: It’s not for everyone, so try before you buy
Custer has simple advice for someone interested working remotely from a co-working space: “Just try it out for a month to see if you can work in the environment. It’s not for everyone.”  

The Factory

The Factory, 38 West Fulton St., Grand Rapids

Started in 2007, The Factory is the pioneer in co-working in West Michigan. It features an open floor space with several conference rooms. Its membership attracts a very diverse community, with an emphasis on community.  
Galen Stevens does engineering and programming for Boeing while working out of The Factory. “Almost entirely computer-based stuff," Stevens says. He says The Factory is like family. “Working at home can get pretty isolating. The people here are very friendly. And of course there are a number of people who work remotely here, so a lot of us have that in common and can learn from each other. I also really like how The Factory is a gathering place for groups and meet-ups like GR Web Dev, Give Camp, Startup Weekend and other events.”

The Vibe: community
“Friendly, focused, and creative” is how Molly Benningfield, a freelance graphic designer and writer, describes The Factory.

Pro tip #2: Plan your work, manage your projects
Benningfield’s advice on the co-working lifestyle is about being organized. “If I have my laptop and a wi-fi connection, I can do anything on my to-do list. I'm old-school and my to-do list is always handwritten in my planner -- I'd probably be lost without that and Google Calendar.” To manage projects, Benningfield recommends Basecamp and Zoho.

Blue35, 35 Oakes St. SW, Grand Rapids, MI

Blue35 is a collaboration between Rockford Construction and Haworth. It features two floors with the latest Haworth office products. It has conference rooms, a variety of single private offices and co-working stations. It targets both individuals and groups representing any industry or skill set.
Debra Minton, president of Philanthropia Partners, recently became a member at Blue35. “The decision to move was strategic and inevitable. We are planning to do much more seminar and presentation work and the space at Blue35 facilitates that," she says. "It's flexible, nimble and contemporary with state-of-the-art amenities. Often times, it's difficult for clients to think of themselves differently when they are in their own offices and spaces. Blue provides a fresh space to see themselves and their work differently."

The Vibe: energy, productivity, and community
“The vibe is simple – energy, productivity, community. People who are there choose to be there and seek to be with others who are creative and like an innovative community. Clients like to be in the space. It works on so many levels,” says Minton.

Pro-tip #3: Being part of the vibe works
Another Blue35 member, Robert Nesky of Keystone Solutions Group, says the decision to join a co-working space should fit your business. “It depends on the type of demands, but if you have a constant flow of customer meetings and potential need for future expansion, then working in a co-working space is great. If you mostly do conference calls, then a home-based office is OK. I will say that having a space in downtown Grand Rapids, near the action of various organizations and the economic development community, has already paid off. In other words, being part of the vibe works.”

The Warehaus, 311 S. River Ave, Holland, MI
Holland’s co-working space will be celebrating its one-year anniversary this June.  It boasts an eclectic mix of co-workers, including business coaches, developers, consultants and a window cleaning company. 

The Vibe: relaxed and focused; no office politics
Warehaus member Chris Kunkel appreciates the positive nature of his co-working colleagues. "I would describe the vibe in the office as both relaxed and focused," he says. "You have the positive impact of a collaborative environment with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, but without many of the negative aspects of the 'office politic' environment."  

Pro-tip #4: Be productive, be social, and network
Seth Getz is the founder of the Warehaus space and works out of the facility as well. “What I discovered is that I could make working out of my house work but it wasn't the best option," Getz says. "What I found is that, while I had the discipline to make it work, my creativity was declining, my collaboration with others wasn’t happening like it should, and I constantly had to get out to as many networking events as I could in order to keep up my contact with the marketplace. And while I thought I was being more productive by working without interruption, I found the opposite to be true: that overall I was more productive when I was around others instead of tucked away all by myself.”

John Rumery is Rapid Growth Media's Jobs and Innovation Editor.

Photography by Adam Bird
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