When Travis Lee and John Maudlin set out to open Dorchester’s first collaborative workspace, the Fields Corner Business Lab, last April, they went through all the paces.
They toured a number of co-working sites that have cropped up around the city. They hired a designer to pick out stylish, modern furniture for their space. And they recruited neighborhood support, encouraging locals to rent desks starting at just $125 a month.
But when it came to actually managing the space, things got tricky. The team used a Google calendar to book conference rooms, but Maudlin says it was hard to know exactly how many of their members — who by their nature are working on flexible schedules — were using the space.
Last fall, they began talking with the Boston-based co-working space, Workbar, which was among the first shared office facilities to open in Boston back in 2009. It has since opened its second location in Central Square in Cambridge and now serves over 700 workers between the two sites.
“I’m always getting calls from people who are saying, ‘I’m interested in opening a co-working space,’ ” says Devin Cole, Workbar’s director of business development. “We always have been very helpful to those folks because we knew that if there are lots of good co-working spaces it’s good for everybody. But we realized there was a need.”
So over the past several months, Workbar has partnered with Fields Corner Business Lab and five other regional co-working spaces to create the Workbar Network, which will link these independently run facilities into a larger community. Other participating sites are Work Station in Cohasset, The Entrepreneur Innovation Center at Framingham State University, Running Start in Worcester, and Groundwork! in New Bedford. To promote the network, Workbar will be offering the public a free day at each of the member sites throughout the month of June.
As part of the network, these six sites are now using Workbar’s proprietary software to help manage their members, Cole says. The software provides tools for managers to check people in, coordinate conference room bookings, and promote events and happenings throughout the network at large. “It’s everything they need to run the space,” says Cole.
“The reservation system is much easier to manage and it gives us more data,” says Maudlin, who says the software helped them realize that they had a lot of people who only came to the space on weekends. “If we were going to do an event or do something for our members, we now know when are they there the most. It’s a lot more information that we can use to better service our members.”
Workbar charges the other facilities for the use of its software; Cole says it works on a revenue-sharing model and that costs vary by the size of the space and its usage. It’s a cheaper model for Workbar to expand its reach without having to do the heavy lifting that goes into the build-out and management of new sites.
But perhaps more importantly, says Cole, is that the network is providing links between smaller entrepreneurship hubs throughout Massachusetts. Members in the Workbar network can have reciprocal usage of any of the other sites, plus access to members-only events. They also can access Workbar’s private message boards where they can find advice and connections to help them grown their businesses. Maudlin says several members have already begun tapping into the larger network to ask questions about how best to manage their finances.
“People come to co-working because they want to be around other interesting smart, helpful people,” Cole says. “A small co-working space can create a great community on the ground. If you can add that smaller co-working community that’s convenient to your house to a larger community, it’s a very powerful piece of value to add.”