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Coworking, Office Xpats come to Bainbridge

Office Xpats celebrated their grand opening last week. - Courtesy Photo
Office Xpats celebrated their grand opening last week.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Imagine an office space with a revolving cast of independently-minded entrepreneurs who are encouraged to grow business ideas at the water cooler, and may occasionally break out for yoga in the middle of the day.

Though it sounds like the office environment made popular via tech companies such as Google and Facebook; it’s not. Jason Omens and Leslie Schneider, co-owners of OfficeXpats have dreamed up a coworking space in the Pavilion and are hoping to build a community of local entrepreneurs looking to get out of their home offices and coffee shops and into a flexible working space.

The “coworking” model, a fast-growing global phenomenon, is transforming the way freelancers, remote employees and entrepreneurs work on a day-to-day basis. Bainbridge Island now has one of the roughly 800 coworking spaces worldwide.

“It can be somewhat lonely and isolating to work from home day in and day out,” said Leif Utne, an Office Xpat member. “But to have a place with shared amenities to get your work done, and get out of your pajamas works not just on a transactional level to get business done, but on a personal level to mix and mingle with peers who are also independent workers.”

Omens and Schneider, who  live together on the island, trolled Bainbridge for several months to find a space to open up their business. At first they hoped for a spot in Island Gateway, but when that fell through the space formerly occupied by KidsUp opened and an opportunity was born.

The former kids play area has been transformed into a modern work space with several conference rooms, work spaces of various sizes, a large gathering room, a kitchen and even a quiet phone booth that doubles as a nap room.

The concept is to share the space, among a revolng group of members who will utilize the space as their business needs require. The lowest rung of membership allows three uses of the space per month, while the highest membership provides 24/7 access to the facility.

With hundreds of islanders commuting to Seattle back and forth for work, and many independent workers who choose Bainbridge as a great place to work from home, Schneider said it felt natural to have a platform where those workers could gather, meet clients, hold meetings or just find a desk and some peace and quiet away from home, yet in a social setting.

For someone such as Utne, who works remotely for a software start-up in Minneapolis called Zanby with software engineers in eastern Europe, Office Xpats provides the space he needs to make phone calls, get out of his pajamas and focus on work. A bit of a coworking expert himself, Utne has worked in spaces from San Francisco to Austin, Texas and was eager to join the new space just two blocks from his island home.

“Coworking is sink or swim based on a shared sense of community,” said Utne. “It’s much more than just renting a desk. It is about developing a sense of ownership and community within the space.”

Another perk, Utne says is the opportunity to cross-pollinate business ideas amongst varied backgrounds and expertise. Omens referred to it as  “matchmaking for business” a place to foster “accelerated serendipity,” as it provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to engage in the casual interaction that breeds new ideas.

The casual environments where employers mix work and play have been fostered particularly in tech companies to serve a dual-goal purpose of boosting the “cool” factor while also providing the right environment to stimulate creativity.

Schneider and Omens plan to add office perks such as midday yoga, haircuts and even massage therapy. Optional weekday meetings are also in the works for member collaboration on marketing and advertising. They also hope to engage with local business non-profits such as Sustainable Bainbridge’s business network and the Bainbridge Business Connection.

“We want to see if this place can effectively serve as an incubator,” said Schneider. “If it can provide the kind of vibrant exchanges and resources that a community of innovators thrives on then we are reaching out to our target. There is evidence coworking is serving as a stimulant in local economies and driver in economic development.”

Over 10 such spaces exist in Seattle, and over 300 in other parts of the country. On Aug. 9 the “movement” celebrated its sixth anniversary. Brad Neuberg is credited with coining the term in 2005 with the opening of his Spiral Muse Coworking.

Enthusiasts say their model is the way of the business future as independent, remote working grows as a more sustainable business model.

Omens said Office Xpats is getting drop-in’s everyday from professionals in graphic design to human resources to public health.

Victor Cheng, a strategic planning consultant and author who has been featured as a business expert by publications from the Wall Street Journal to MSNBC and Forbes, is an island resident who joined to utilize a second office with more space.

“It is nice just to be able to spread out my work, not feel so clustered and focus,” said Cheng.

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