Stories

How This Journalist Started Her Own Coworking Marketplace

By Susan Johnston December 10th, 2014

While working remotely as a full-time investigative reporter, Sharona Coutts found herself empathizing with freelancers. There were no water cooler chats or brainstorming sessions with colleagues, so Coutts began inviting people to her Brooklyn apartment for informal coworking sessions. Eventually, people returned the favor, asking her to come to their apartments.

“We found that we were much more productive when there were two or three of us,” she said. “It’s really nice to have a change of scenery.”

In September, that realization led Coutts, who is the vice president for research and investigations at RH Reality Check, to launch SpareChair, a website that lists open seats in coworking spaces around the country. Traditional coworking spaces can join SpareChair, but Coutts said the site also attracts writers, designers, and consultants who want to host collaborative sessions in their homes or studios. Coutts even lists her own home office.

“SpareChair allows members to go cowork with someone whose work or field or company they’re interested in,” she explained. “The idea is to get work done during the coworking session, but having that real world connection also has enormous value. You can actually search by profession, and you’ll see all of our members, guests and hosts who indicate that they’re in that field.”

The website is still in beta, but potential guests and hosts can request invitations at the top of the website. So far, 400 guests and 65 hosts have signed up in the U.S., as popular communities have emerged in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and San Francisco. At the moment, most workspaces cost between $10 and $20 per session.

One SpareChair guest, Brooklyn-based freelance writer Bayla Metzger, looked into joining a traditional coworking space near her home, but didn’t want to deal with the monthly commitment and expenses. She had also tried working out of coffee shops, but found “you end up spending thirty dollars on food and coffee that you don’t even need.” Metzger heard about SpareChair from a friend and was intrigued by the price—several options start at $5—and flexibility.

At a recent SpareChair session in a Brooklyn loft, she was was pleasantly surprised by the little personal touches: homemade cornbread and granola, cushions piled with throw pillows. “It was so much cozier and more welcoming than a [traditional] coworking space,” she said. “It was an inspiring, beautiful space.”

Metzger and several other writers are now planning on meeting for weekly sessions in the loft.

Coutts understands the nature of coworking isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition, and to appeal to freelancers and telecommuters, she’s made it a priority to provide as much information as possible about each space. “Some people really like a quiet work environment,” she said. “Some people love cats and dogs, and others might be allergic to them or frightened of them, so we wanted to be aware if there are animals. We also include a question about whether there are kids present or kids welcome, because that’s important to some workers.”

And even though a system that allows for individual sessions makes it easy for workers to jump from place to place, Coutts still wants to build a sense of community. Since independent workers don’t normally get to attend a holiday party, members are all invited to the SpareChair holiday bash in New York City on December 17. (If you’re in town and want to attend, request a SpareChair invite, and you’ll get a party invite via email.)

Working on your own may come with a unique set of challenges, and it’s easy to feel isolated working alone in an apartment or coffee shop. But sometimes, the only solution you really need is an open chair.

Image by michaeljung
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