When Andrew Auten ran a financial consulting business, he created an office in his basement. But he quickly found himself struggling to stay focused. “It’s common,” he said, “all of a sudden, you’re turning over laundry a lot more than you’re turning over your work assignments.”
Auten realized the challenges he faced during his years as a consultant were common experiences of a large segment of the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 percent of employees work from home at least once a week. It’s why he recently founded The Open Office, a co-working space in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
The Open Office occupies two floors in the former Coventry School building, and offers 10 cubicles for solo entrepreneurs and rows of desks for drop-in freelancers. A series of conference rooms and smaller meeting rooms for private meetings are also available.
The building is fully wired, has a kitchen with free coffee and on-site lockers. Freelancers who need a workspace out of the house pay memberships that let them use The Open Office from as little as five days a month to as much as all day, every day.
The Freelance Strategist talked with Auten, now a senior vice president at KeyBank in Cleveland, about the workspace he created for the Cleveland freelancing scene and the benefits of co-working.
The Freelancer: If I’m looking for an office, why should I pay for you and not go to the plethora of coffee shops that Cleveland is known for?
Auten: Well, there’s something to be said for working around other people who are working. You can get your cup of coffee and get to work. It’s a bit different than when you’re contending with noise, contending with when high school lets out and you get an influx of kids.
TF: In a lot of the articles I’ve seen, co-working really does kind of skew 35 and under. You’re going 35 and older. What made you decide to pitch to that particular age group?
Auten: This is a trend that’s starting to catch on in older demographics. I think people are starting to change their perspective a bit and there’s value in sharing an office space that’s a little more open.
TF: Let’s talk about Cleveland Heights. What made this particular suburb attractive to you?
Auten: When we were looking around, we were focusing on people who are working in more professional trades who are a bit more mid-career. Between all of the Heights — Cleveland, Shaker, University — we think that there’s about 8,000 to 9,000 people who are working for themselves by themselves in their houses. We wanted to appeal to those types of workers.
TF: Let me talk to you about the room we’re sitting in. I’ve noticed we’ve got the whiteboard the markers, a place for water, a cabinet. How did you decide what kinds of furnishings you wanted?
Auten: In this room, everything rolls. So we’re on rolling chairs, rolling tables. We can move everything out of here very quickly and turn it into something to easy to use if you want to have a gathering or a networking event. In other rooms, we have different kinds of furniture that makes sense for smaller meetings. Upstairs, we have open work tables. We wanted it to be a space where you can sit down and do your thing.
TF: What has been the most surprising type of freelancer you’ve had?
Auten: Everything from a daycare, to an after-school tutoring program to someone who’s looking at putting together an organization for neighborhood development. It’s not like it was in the 1980s or 1990s where you think, “Oh, I have a good idea. I’m going to keep it secret. It’s going to launch and be an amazing thing. “ People are realizing it makes a lot more sense to talk these things through a lot before you start putting any time and money and effort in it.