In 2006, I began a non-profit organization in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I was an excited 28-year-old who wanted to change Charlotte and the world. To do so however, I knew I needed to hire high-capacity staff members.
After working out of my upstairs bedroom for years, I finally raised enough capital to hire my first staff member.
But where would I find business space for rent that would accommodate both of us?
I turned to a friend who owned a building in South End (which was between where both my new employee and I lived). We leased a 300sq/ft office (more like small bedroom) for $600 per month.
The space came with no desks, no chairs, no filing cabinets, no phones, no conference room, no fridge to keep my lunch cold, and (gulp) no housecleaning or coffee!
My excitement turned to concern when I realized I needed to purchase desks, chairs, phones, a mini-fridge, and a mop and broom! Despite these extra costs that we couldn’t afford, we had no option but to move forward.
Over the next two years, my co-worker and I labored in what came to be known as “The Cell.” It was cold in the winter and warm in the summer and always dusty.
The working environment was dreary to say the least. There were no windows, and our desks faced a brick wall that I used to stare at and wonder:
How the hell Andy Dufresne, from The Shawshank Redemption, ever picked his way through such a thing?
Somedays, I pictured myself holding my way through the wall to a wide-open office space on the other side with lots of light and freedom; but I didn’t have the money.
As our staff continued to grow, we began looking for new office space again. But because we were still on a tight budget, we knew we couldn’t afford an open concept office with lots of windows in a great part of town. We eventually moved to a 1,000 sq/ft office in a 3-story building beside the Dowd YMCA. But we faced similar problems. The space felt more like a three-bedroom apartment than an office space. There were three work areas, but only one had a window; and the window it did have- had moisture between the panes making hard to even see outside.
The other two rooms were small and suffocating. The shared bathrooms in the hallway were filthy and the entire building smelt like a dentist office.
On the bright side, though, we finally had a conference room! But (crap) we didn’t own a conference table or chairs. We had extra room! But once again we had to purchase additional desks and pay for Wi-Fi and a landline. Worse yet, we had to sign a two-year lease to get the price down to $900/m.
While the space was bigger, and we had more staff, I could tell our team morale was the same. The girls in the office would wear coats during the winter (with personal space heaters under their desks—which drove up the power bill!). In the summer, we had fans set on full-blast to keep cool. The wireless speaker we purchased from Radio Shack to play French-Disco music in the background stayed quite most days. Plus, we struggled keeping the place clean. Whose job is that anyway?
Over time, people started to ask to work from their homes and coffee shops. How could I say no? Eventually, I found myself in the office most days working by myself—alone and broke—just like the old days. While traditional office space may be a great idea for some organizations, it almost cost me mine.
I made a lot of mistakes leading our organization. Sure. And I own the culture we never really had.
However, I did not account for the “hidden” costs tethered to these traditional spaces; nor did I consider how the type of space you work from impacts the quality of work you produce. Shared office space or coworking spaces in Charlotte weren’t really around or an option back then but I wish they would have been.
These types of coworking office spaces offer everything my non-profit start-up needed (but couldn’t afford) and more.
From great technology like, reliable and secure wireless access to the “hidden” things like office furniture and unique, “culture-building” environments, coworking spaces really offer businesses an unbelievable solution.
I hope my story helps some of you as you consider which type of business space would best serve you, your team, and the mission you are on.
At the Launch Factory we provide a unique, technology-optimized Charlotte coworking space, ready for business professionals and technology teams of all shapes and sizes. If you have any questions about our space or would like to schedule a private tour, please contact us here.