The workplace has changed.
More and more, the average office space consisting of cubicles and the ever-present buzz of fluorescent lights is taking a backseat to a global movement designed to make the office experience more in tune with today’s technology-driven work force.
That movement is known as “co-working,” and while it began in big cities on the east and west coasts, it’s spreading to some unlikely places, including the Tri-Cities. In order to meet this rapidly growing movement, co-working spaces began popping up sporadically over the last decade. The spaces provide a communal environment for people who can do their job with a laptop, cell phone, Wi-Fi access and a hefty dose of caffeine.
While technology is certainly one of the driving forces behind the surge of co-working spaces around the globe, the growth can also be attributed to the economy.
When the recession hit and people were being let go, they began looking for other jobs. As an answer to not finding work, many of those people went into work for themselves — either freelancing or starting up their own small business.
That meant either working from home or seeking out a co-working space.
“With those two things, you have a unique opportunity to create a whole new environment. The traditional job of, ‘I’m going to get a job at a company and be there for 30 years and have desk and cubicle there,’ that’s changing rapidly,” said Jose Castillo, who opened Spark Plaza with his wife, Shannon, in downtown Johnson City in 2009.
Located in one of downtown’s historic buildings directly above Freiberg’s, Spark Plaza is the only co-working space in the Tri-Cities.
“Most people are able to do their job with a laptop and cell phone, and therefore, are much more willing to telecommute, start their own business, live in Johnson City, Tennessee, and work with clients all over the world, and we see a lot of that with our clients here at Spark Plaza,” Castillo said.
In his business travels, Castillo has visited other co-working spaces and has seen firsthand how this new business model is spreading. In his eyes, this is a prime example of how the current world of business is responding to such drastic change.
“This is a dramatic shift in how the world is going to go to work. In the next five to 10 years, we’re going to see an even more dramatic shift. We’re always going to have to have jobs where people put things together with their hands and manufacturing and agriculture, but the work force shift going to technology/information-based services, that’s a dramatic shift in how people are working and it’s changing from the bottom — the individual guy — all the way to the top of these massive global corporations that are all feeling that, ‘Oh my goodness, we don’t have to have a 60-story building in midtown Manhattan. We can have people all over the country and live in a small town and work out of a co-working space a couple of blocks away from their home,’ ” he said.
That’s why Spark Plaza and co-working seemed like the perfect fit for Bradley Batt, who owns software company Blue Zebra Sports.
Batt, who spent years working from home, moved to the area about a year ago from Houston. After reading an article about co-working, he did a search and came across Spark Plaza.
“Right now, with it just being me, I just need a place where I can get out of the house. I like working from home sometimes, but I have three step-kids and a five-week old, so there’s no way at a certain point I can get anything done,” Batt said.
Plus, being in a place where there are other professionals working under similar conditions is a good thing, according to Batt. Co-working has allowed him to have a more focused work atmosphere and a place where he communicates with other people.
“That’s cool. We can throw ideas at each other and just chat and meet people that are like-minded — entrepreneurial, they work for themselves and trying to make something happen. That part is kind of nice,” Batt said. “If you work for yourself, it’s hard to feel like you’re in a work environment. It’s just a one-man show, but if you come in (to a co-working space) you get that feel of working in a small business or a company.”
Creating a place with that focus on community is something the Castillos wanted to do when they opened Spark Plaza.
“Most of these folks and the people that are our clients can work anywhere. They can work out of their home, their car, anyplace they have where they can sit down with a laptop, have power and Wi-Fi ... but we weren’t designed as human beings to interact that way. We have to have other people around. It’s a community feel, and most of the people joining co-working spaces are doing so to be with other people,” Castillo said.
That basic need for community and the rising popularity of co-working are just some of what Castillo attributes to the growth of Spark Plaza.
When the space opened in 2009, the goal was to have six full-time spaces, with the remaining space dedicated to part-time members. Within the first year of operation, three more full-time spaces were added, bringing the total to nine.
With that kind of quick growth, Castillo said there are plans to add more spaces in addition to expanding Spark Plaza’s reach in the Tri-Cities.
“Spark Plaza has had a great impact in Johnson City and we feel really strongly that having multiple locations will not only help Spark Plaza but help the region as well,” he said.
For more on Spark Plaza, including pricing information, visit SparkPlaza.com.