By Mary Ann Lickteig
Wayne Maceyka believes that three little words have the power to revive sagging rural economies, cut pollution, build community, and spark professional connections. He wrote them in blue marker and taped them to the door of the United Church of Hinesburg parish hall on Tuesday: “Work here today.”
A dozen people accepted the invitation. Amid church hymnals and quilted wall hangings, they worked at tables set up around the perimeter of the pop-up shared office. Additional hand-lettered signs directed them to adjoining rooms, where they could make phone calls in private or hunker down behind closed doors if they craved quiet.
Rachel Lapidow came to get out of her apartment, be around other people, and edit a romance novel. Jon Atwood drove 50 minutes from Morrisville to work on software alongside a college friend, but he admitted an ulterior motive. “There’s some good mountain biking trails over here, too,” he said.
And so began the fifth session of Hinesburg HUB Coworking +, a rural rendition of a global trend. Gallup reports that the number of American employees who work remotely at least some of the time has risen 4 percentage points from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016. What’s more, Gallup says, working off-site between 60 percent and 80 percent of the time boosts employee engagement.
Popular in urban areas, coworking involves sharing a workspace that’s typically accessed with a monthly or annual membership. Members may be independent contractors, work-at-home professionals, or commuters looking to spend a day closer to home. Maceyka started this one after working remotely, himself. The Hinesburg resident works in marketing operations at solar installer SunCommon in Waterbury. The offices are brand new, but they’re 35 minutes away. To stay closer to home – and to his kids’ childcare and school – he works about once a week from a coffee shop.
“And I happened to notice people on laptops, like me,” he said. So he started talking to them about their work habits and needs, and he researched coworking.
Ideally, coworking space would be available round the clock, he said. Membership levels would vary. One member might pay $500 a month to have an exclusive, private office. Someone else might pay $300 for a dedicated desk and file cabinet in an open space. One hundred eighty dollars might get you full-time access to any available spot in the open space, while $70 would cover part-time use. Companies could buy corporate memberships to give their employees a satellite office. Meeting rooms would be available for booking.
“It’s like a gym memberships for your business,” Maceyka said. “Hopefully, though, with better results for most people.” Start-up costs, however, were too expensive. “In smaller markets, it’s just harder to make the math work in terms of membership,” he said. So he created a pop-up model and found rent-free space: the Hinesburgh Public House restaurant and, now, the Osborne Parish House, where he helped upgrade the Wi-Fi. He suggests a $10 donation from participants to help cover the cost of pastries, coffee, and equipment, such as the two stand-up desks he purchased for the operation.
Standing at one of those desks on Tuesday was home-based independent consultant Melissa Levy. She came to polish the report and presentation she was to deliver the next day. “Home is isolating,” she said. “There’s no water cooler.” And, she and others noted, there’s less incentive to dress up. She put on earrings Tuesday.
Levy chairs Hinesburg’s economic development committee, of which Maceyka is a member. “This co-working idea is one of our strategies of our economic development plan,” she said.
Also working from her Hinesburg home is Alison Lesure, who said she appreciates the flexibility and independence. “You can get up and work in your pajamas if you want to.” And, since the Copenhagen-based nonprofit she works for has offices in several time zones, she does that sometimes. But advantages, like being able to throw in a load of laundry or start dinner, can become distractions. “You’re there,” Lesure said. “And you have so many responsibilities in life, and a lot of them are sitting right in front of you when you’re working from home.”
United Church of Hinesburg pastor Jared Hamilton understands. His wife works from home and, though he has an office there, he finds it hard to be productive.
Housing Hinesburg HUB fits his church’s mission, he said. Growing churches, like his, want to tap into the energy of the wider community. He typically offers the hall rent-free to nonprofit groups. “If there are folks who think that having that space is important, like being able to mimic an office space once or twice a month, if that is socially gratifying or vocationally gratifying because of those connections, that’s great work. It sounds like the work of a church.”
The next pop-up co-working session is Oct. 17 at Osborne Parish House.