Advantages and disadvantages of not having an office.

The number of freelancers in Europe has increased by 45% between 2004 to 2013 (freelancerworlwide.com). Entrepreneurship and remote work have grown at a similar pace. Propelled by (or propelling!) that growth has been a dramatic increase in the number and variety of places from which a freelancer can work, from coworking spaces to laptop-friendly cafés, to serviced private offices, even to hotel lobbies and shopping malls.

But more possibilities can make the choice harder, raising the question: What kind of work space is best suited to the freelancer? Leaving aside hotel lobbies and shopping malls, we’ll focus on four of the most common choices: home offices, laptop-friendly cafés, coworking spaces, and executive suites (private serviced offices ready to move in and start working).
 
The simplest choice is to work from home, which has many advantages:
  • The price: if you can work from an existing room using your existing Internet account, working from home work at home doesn’t necessarily add anything to your monthly rent other than the added utility bills for the extra time you spend there. On the other hand, if you’ll need your own office and don’t have space for it already, space for a home office can cost as much as outsourcing office space. You’ll also have to sink in the initial investment for office infrastructure (desk, chair, lamp, etc.). 
  • The convenience: set your schedule as you want and eliminate the commute entirely. There is no opening or closing time and you don’t even need to leave your bed in the morning to get working (but see disadvantages).
  • Comfort: you dress and work on how you want! There is no rule when you work from home, except for the ones your partner or children make for you (again, see disadvantages)!
But working from home has also many disadvantages:
  • There is no separation between your professional and your private life: if the kids want attention or your partner needs help, it’s hard to say know when you set your own schedule and work from home. On the other hand, it’s also often hard to stop working and make time for friends and family when there are no clear borders between when and where you work and play.
  • Distractions: kids, flatmates, pets, household chores… it’s sometimes difficult to focus on work.
  • Loneliness: whether it is personal life (you go out less and meet fewer people) or professional life (harder to extend your network while staying home), working from home can be lonely, being lonely can be depressing, and being depressed makes it to do your best work.
  • Motivation and procrastination. Even if you don’t feel lonely, working alone removes many of the external social motivators and feedback that helps most people stay motivated and to stop yourself from binge-watching the final three seasons of Breaking Bad
  • Too much comfort and convenience (a.k.a., “Why are my family and friends staring at me with concerned looks?)”: While it’s wonderful not to have to leave your bed or worry about what you wear, if you’ve worked from home for a while, you may have noticed that you aren’t actually spending much time in the civilized world anymore, where people do things like dress or take showers (or speak or move their legs).
  • Stagnated learning and professional development. It’s hard to find a mentor, a collaborator, a teacher, or just an answer to a simple question such as where to print business cards in the neighbourhood when you’re at home all day.

Working from a café is another choice appreciated by freelancers. It also has its advantages and disadvantages. However, with Cafes there are many factors left to chance and your luck:

  • It creates a separation between professional and personal life: just changing your place of work and getting out of the house will give you this separation.
  • A motivating social atmosphere: sometimes just the mere presence of other people working on their laptops can provide a break from loneliness and the motivation to work that working from home cannot. It’s a lot harder to escape from reality and watch the final episode of Game of Thrones from a cafe when you feel the judging eyes of other laptop workers on your back than it is from home if you live alone (but see inconveniences).
  • Price: Cafés can be even cheaper than working from home because the real estate, Internet, utilities, and desk and chair are all free. But, again, see inconvenience.
The inconveniences of working from a cafe are:
  • The security: it is possible to get your belongings stolen while you are in the restroom, or even to get your passwords stolen (public WIFI so it’s not secure).
  • The schedules: you will have to follow the café’s schedule and adapt your work day to it.
  • Lack of privacy: the fact of being surrounded inevitably leads to a lack of confidentiality.
  • Non-professional space to meet clients or even to talk to them if the cafe plays loud music or has constant loud background noise. 
  • Just as the environment can be stimulating and socially rewarding, it can also be distractingmusic, loud or strange customers, the constant grinding of espresso machines, people wanting to start conversations all point to an environment that can be very hard to work in.
  • Price: While cafes can be free, they can also be more expensive than even a private office once you factor in the expensive drinks and food you end up buying. You might easily find yourself spending upwards of 5000 CZK / month on overpriced coffees and the kind of food your waistline and doctor love, but your significant other would rather you did without.
  • Reliability: Café WIFI connections are notoriously (and often intentionally) unreliable. Electrical outlets can be hard to find or unavailable, and if you like to work from the cafes that other people like, too, it may be a matter of chance whether you can find a seat to work from.
  • As with working from home, cafés are limited with respect to professional development and learning, and other forms of more meaningful social connectedness that comes from working alongside people you have a chance to get to know.
  • Nowhere to store your things when you go out for lunch or leave for the night. You’ll need to carry your entire office in and out of work every day.
 
Another possibility we often forget about is the library. Indeed, most of them are open for all for free and they have a lot of advantages:
  • The price: most of them are free, as mentioned above.
  • The atmosphere: if you like calm and quiet places, there is nothing better than the silence of a library (but see disadvantages).
  • Create a separation between your professional and your personal life: just the fact of changing of place for work will help you creating this separation.
Libraries also have their share of disadvantages:
  • The security: it is better than most cafés, but not by much.
  • The schedules: you will have to adhere to the library schedule of the library and adapt your work day to it.
  • The atmosphere: while the silence can be great if you need to concentrate, many people feel a sense of oppression or loneliness in the silent open spaces of libraries. If you need to make calls, you may need to leave the library to do so. And if you want to have some food or drink while you work, many libraries forbid it.
  • Lack of privacy, non-professional, and socially isolated: Libraries are more like cafes with respect to their lack of privacy and non-professional environment, and more like working from home with respect to social isolation. The worst of both options in these respects.
 
As mentioned above, there are companies which rent private ready-to-use offices, known as executive suites. Here are the advantages of this offer:
  • Create a separation between professional and personal life: just the fact of changing of place for work will help you create this separation.
  • Security: you can leave your belongings in your office without being scared of getting them stolen, and the WIFI is secured.
  • Professional environment and location: executive suites often provide answering services and mail services. They have top-notch printers and high-quality internet. And they have meeting rooms and office resources that would cost a lot more money than most of us are ready to spend, even if we had space for it, for a home office. They are often also located in great locations in urban centres. But see shortcomings.
  • Privacy and confidentiality: you can meet your customers in a professional location without having to worry about prying eyes or ears. If you like the privacy you get from a home office, but want a higher degree of professionalism, executive suites can be the perfect option.
  • Flexibility: Executive suites are furnished, the Internet is ready to go, and professional office infrastructure is already in place, so you can get to work on the same day as you sign the contract. Leases, too, tend to be possible for shorter terms than the standard 1-year lease you’ll be required to sign if you rent a standard office space. But see shortcomings.
However executive suite office rental also has shortcomings:
  • Price: While they remove the initial cost and time that comes with setting up your own home office or unfurnished private office, they are definitely the most expensive option on a month-by-month basis.
  • Location: while executive suites are often available in city centres, they are limited to larger urban centres, and often even there most of their locations are in office buildings off freeways inconvenient to residential neighbourhoods and impersonal in their feel. They aren’t accessible to everyone.
 
Finally, coworking spaces. A coworking space is a company which provides space for work to independent workers, unlike executive suites, they specialize in the quality of their open work areas and they focus on the quality of the community among the people who work there, even though those people work independently. Like all the others it has its share of advantages and disadvantages:
  • Professional environment and location: Like executive suites, coworking spaces provide professional work environments with resources like meeting rooms and printers and data projectors and high-quality Internet provided as a matter of course. Even more than executive suites, they tend to have a wide range of locations from city centres to more residential neighbourhoods, with the rate of growth so rapid it may not be long before they are as plentiful as cafés.
  • The atmosphere of coworking spaces varies widely ranging from more café-like to more executive-suite like, depending on whether you prefer working in an open space or prefer to have a private office. Although many coworking spaces are open-plan offices, almost all of them provide mixed-use spaces, like meeting rooms and skype calling rooms. Some even provide silent workrooms alongside noisier collaborative rooms, allowing members to choose the environment best for them given their particular task at hand.  
  • Create a separation between your professional and your personal life: just the fact of changing of place for work will help you create this separation.
  • The community: the initial motivation behind coworking spaces was to provide the professional development, collaboration and social support you get from working in a traditional office while getting rid of all the office politics, bureaucracy, hierarchy and lack of decision-making independence that also goes with that. Coworking gives you that community by providing a space where you can work alongside other like-minded people, but since you all work for different organizations, it gets rid of the office politics. They tend to organize events and have networks for communication among members to build that sense of community and connectedness in ways that you’ll rarely find in an executive suite or at a café.
  • Extend your network, get quick access to local knowledge and develop as a professional. As with working for a traditional office, but unlike any of the other options listed here, coworking spaces offer workshops and other events so you can continue to learn and grow in your area of expertise. If you’re starting business in a new city or country, they also provide a kind of local knowledge that no other option can provide because you will be working alongside many other people who did just what you did as well as long-time locals who know the ins and outs of living and working in your new home. By facilitating community and collaboration, they also help you network, learn, and cooperate with other members of the space, providing complementary skills and knowledge requiring no more than turning your head and asking for help.
  • Security and storage: Unlike cafés or most libraries, you can store your personal belongings in lockers in the space and also feel more secure when leaving your laptop at your desk, knowing that the other people in the space are your colleagues.
  • Flexibility: many coworking spaces provide 24/7 access (though many don’t, so if that’s important to you, be sure to check), and most also provide short-term memberships as well as longer-term commitments (Locus has day passes for non-members, evenings & weekends memberships, and as little as 1-day / month for those who want to be members), with monthly commitments being the norm rather than the exception.
  • Price: Coworking spaces are a prime example of the sharing economy, allowing freelancers to have meeting rooms, great office locations, and high-quality office infrastructure at a fraction of the cost they would pay for setting these things up in their home office. They save money on real-estate since the work areas are shared. Coffee and tea are usually free, saving money relative to cafés. They also tend to be less expensive than renting a small furnished office, while offering many benefits a private office cannot. Many coworking space members also find the increased professionalism of the environment and the improved network of social connections brings them work they otherwise would not have gotten, more than making up for the cost of the membership. But see disadvantages.
Of course, coworking spaces also have disadvantages:
  • Comfort and convenience: if you don’t struggle with loneliness or procrastination, you’re disciplined enough to start and stop working when you ought to, you don’t have family at home from whom you need to escape in order to be productive, and you don’t need the professional environment of an office, then nothing beats the convenience of working from home. Indeed, the flexibility and convenience of working from home are why many of us left the traditional office environment in the first place.
  • Price: While most coworking spaces are inexpensive relative to private offices or executive suites, nothing beats free. Home offices, libraries, and cafés all have the potential to save the freelancer meaningful money, particularly if you are struggling to make ends meet as it is, or if you will not offset the membership cost with other less tangible financial gains that often come with a coworking-space membership: client referrals and increased motivation and productivity.
  • Distractions and lack of privacy: being surrounded by people inevitably leads to a lack of privacy and to distractions from the conversations of others that you wouldn’t face if you live alone and work from home or work from an executive suite or private office or even library. If you don’t need the community and social connectedness that most people join coworking spaces to get more of, or you like to work in silence, you may be better off with one of those alternatives. Alternatively, find a coworking space that has private offices. Though a private office in a coworking space will inevitably leave you less socially connected to other members than if you worked in an open-plan coworking space, you’ll have more opportunities to collaborate and connect than with other options in this comparison, and you’ll still get the privacy and quiet that fits your needs (Locus does not have private offices, but we’re happy to suggest coworking options that do).
While every option has its advantages and disadvantages, the good news is that unlike working from a corporate office, as a freelancer you really don’t have to choose. You can mix it up, working from home, cafés, the library, or a nice coworking space depending on your mood or the need. If you still don’t know whether coworking is right for you, we encourage you to give a couple spaces a try! You can get a free day in Locus, no strings attached. Better still, try us out for a month and get a real sense as to whether Locus is right for you! First-time members get 1000 Kc off a Full-Time Membership for the first month.

The Impact of Coworking

The Impact of Coworking
The Impact of Coworking

What is coworking?

Here is Brad Neuberg’s original conception (this blog post represents the first public expression of the term as it is used today), which we think captures the spirit as well as any other definitions out there:

Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community.   

Coworking is a solution to this problem. In coworking, independent writers, programmers, and creators come together in community a few days a week. Coworking provides the “office” of a traditional corporate job, but in a very unique way.

Here’s one of our favorite definitions, from Coworking.com, managed by a team of coworking space managers and owners who have been central to the coworking movement from its early days: 

The idea is simple: that independent professionals and those with workplace flexibility work better together than they do alone. Coworking answers the question that so many face when working from home: “Why isn’t this as fun as I thought it would be?” 

Beyond just creating better places to work, coworking spaces are built around the idea of community-building and sustainability. Coworking spaces uphold the values set forth by those who developed the concept in the first place: collaboration, community, sustainability, openness, and accessibility.

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How was coworking born? 

Some think that coworking is inspired by the artist’s studios of the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed somdther and work alone or together. These places were created to improve creativity by meeting inspiring peoples, and to make an economy by sharing the cost with others. 
The aim of these places was almost the same as coworking spaces as we know them today.
It’s in Silicon Valley in 2005 that the concept of these collaborative workspaces really took off, with the creation of the first « real » coworking space in San Francisco by Brad Neuberg (at least in name, though there were several similar spaces that didn’t use the coworking moniker that began the same year in other places).
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Why join a coworking space?

Coworking spaces offer dynamic locations of exchange and sharing. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, and creatives from diverse fields enlarge your network, but more importantly serve as a resource of experience and knowledge and potential collaboration or inspiration. For many members, however, the most important benefit is purely the positive social energy. Members often feel more motivated surrounded by other focused, hard-working members. 

One of the biggest benefits is improved work-life balance. Location-independent professionals often work from home or from cafes and face one of two common challenges. Either they spend too much time alone and miss the social proximity and social connections they used to have before they were independent OR they have a partner or children at home and have difficulty explaining to their partner or kids that they really do need to work even though it’s true that they set their own schedule.

Most coworking spaces also organize events that help facilitate both the social relationships, motivation, and professional development. Locus, for example, organizes weekly coffee breaks and lunches, and monthly pub nights and game nights to facilitate meaningful social connections. For motivation, Locus hosts weekly Work Jams, where members sit together at the same table and use a timer to work together for a half day with planned breaks, and weekly critique-free writing meetups to help provide a sacred time and place, and positive social energy, for focused writing. 

Coworking spaces promote sustainability as key players in the sharing economy. They allow members to dramatically reduce commute times because they are often located in the neighborhoods where their members work, and they reduce operation costs and startup time by providing great office infrastructure to members who could never justify having meeting rooms, data projectors and other high-quality office equipment in central locations if that space was not shared among many other location-independent professionals. 

Many coworking spaces also serve as a kind of landing zone, helping to connect global and local. About 70% of Locus’s members, for example, come from countries other than the Czech Republic (nearly 30 different countries), with the language of the space being English. This allows newcomers to Prague a ready way to form a community with other people like them, and also with English-speaking Czechs who are welcoming to an international community and reading to share local knowledge. Czech members, who make up about 30% of Locus’s members, get the complementary benefit of ready access to a friendly international community and a workplace where they can practice their English on a daily basis.

Finally, coworking spaces simply offer convenience and accessibility. Coworking spaces have become so widespread that as long as you live in a large city they will often have options that are centrally located OR in your neighborhood, with 24 hours a day, 7 day a week access, and with membership plans that meet your particular needs. Locus, for example, is in both a central location and one of the most prized residential neighborhoods in Prague, Vinohrady. It offers all members smart-phone based access 24/7, 365 days a year, and has membership options from as little as one day per month to unlimited use. For the many members who travel abroad but would still like a reliable office in Prague, there are options to put your membership on hold for up to a year. And for members who already have a full-time day job but want to start their solo career, there’s an Evenings & Weekends option.

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Some statistics about the impacts of coworking 

According to global research by Deskmag and Deskwanted:
  • 74% of coworkers are more productive,
  • 86% have a larger business network,
  • 93% have a bigger social network,
  • Over two-thirds feel more creative and collaborate more on projects
  • A third reported an increase in income.

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Still not convinced?

Come and try a day of coworking for free at Locus Workspace

Sources

https://www.business.com/articles/coworking-74-of-coworkers-are-more-productive/
http://codinginparadise.org/weblog/2005/08/coworking-community-for-developers-who.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coworking

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part III—OPTIMISM: A Tribute to My Father, Warren Bennis

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part III—OPTIMISM: A Tribute to My Father, Warren Bennis

N.B. Just to be sure it remains clear, Locus Workspace is NOT closing. We closed our original location at Krakovská 22 near Prague’s Muzeum metro (a.k.a., Locus–Muzeum) in April 2017. Our Vinohrady location at Slezská 45 is alive and well!

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This blog post is in large part a tribute to my father, Warren Bennis (1925-2014), who influenced my life in profound ways that I continue to discover. Those closest to him know that even at the end of his life he was the eternal optimist, regularly reporting (and wholeheartedly believing) that he had just had “the best glass of orange juice ever,” “the best day yet.” He would make those statements with conviction, but also with a self-conscious smile, recognizing that we—his audience—might not buy it. “Dad, there is no way you just had the best glass of orange juice ever… again… today,” I would lecture him, thinking I was being a responsible son by letting him know. What he knew, and I was slow to recognize, was that he could. While these might have only been subjective, momentary “best evers,” in the grand scheme of things, the moment, for him, was more palpable and intense than his memories of those past experiences he was comparing it with, and so they were indeed often the best ever. And no upstart, narrow-minded, inexperienced son, who was yet to understand the objectivity of subjectivity, was going to take that away from him! The best thing of all, of course, was knowing that the next day promised to be still better. I love you, Pop.


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The story of LocusMuzeum’s closing was largely the story of three distinct emotions: sadness, relief, and optimism. I wrote about the role of sadness and relief in the two previous blog posts. The post about sadness was largely about the meaningful things that happened at LocusMuzeum and the feeling of loss that goes with saying goodbye. The post about relief was largely about the particular difficulties associated with that location and the freedom that closing the doors gave us to put those difficulties behind us. This long-overdue post explains why I feel so much OPTIMISM.

There is one main source of optimism: scaling back helps me find the time and space to transition from being a business manager to being a business leader, from worrying about the day-to-day trivialities of running a business to being able to create and achieve a vision of something bigger that inspires others and keeps the business relevant over time. This transition from manager to leader, “from working for the company to working on the company” (to use the language of Michael Gerber in The eMyth) might be the single greatest challenge to the early-stage entrepreneur. Certainly it has been my greatest challenge in running Locus Workspace.

The day-to-day trivialities are things like answering emails, ordering inventory, marketing, designing the website, building relationships with my members and potential members, invoicing, bookkeeping, and collecting past due payments; hiring, training, or firing employees; maintenance and improving the office infrastructure, noticing the myriad things that matter to customers but that employees don’t have the sense of ownership to care about, etc., etc., etc. Okay, these “trivialities” are not in fact trivial. They are essential things that need to get done for a business to succeed. They are what make good managers so essential to a successful business. And I would guess that almost every beginning entrepreneur works long hours in part taking care of these kinds of things (unless they’re independently wealthy, they have deep-pocketed investors, or they struck gold with such a good idea that caring about quality just wasn’t necessary).

That’s the crux of the problem. It’s hard not to get stuck working every minute of the day taking care of these essential daily distractions, that are in fact far more than distractions: if you (the business owner) don’t do them, the business won’t keep running. But if you do them, they quickly come to take up nearly every second of every day. The obvious solution is to delegate: the CEO shouldn’t be doing these things. And certainly great CEOs are particularly great because they delegate effectively. But knowing and doing are two different things. With a company started on few resources and a philosophy that jumping in and trial and error are the surest road to success, I am in awe of any CEO who can effectively run (that is, manage) their business while also maintaining and communicating a strong vision for that company (that is, lead). Forget about other important aspects of living a good life, like time for family, friends, and exercise.

The idea that leaders and managers are distinguished from each other in this particular capacity is not original. It was introduced to me by my father, who told the story of his own career transition from a manager–leader (president of a large university) back to being an academic in the 1970s. Before that—in the 1950s and ’60s—he had the great fortune to be a young scholar in the fledgling field of management studies, propelling him into what must have been the closest thing academia had to rock-star status. He left that career in the late ’60s, first to serve as provost of social sciences at the University of Buffalo (which evolved into acting executive vice president), and next as President of the University of Cincinnati.

He likes to tell the story—which he told in print in his memoir, Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (2010)—of a point late in his administrative career before returning to academia, during an invited lecture about life as a university president at the Harvard School of Education. He had a hard-earned gift for communication, with public speaking being the domain he considered his strongest asset. But during this talk, Paul Ylvisaker, at the time dean of the graduate school, perhaps sensing something emotionally discordant, asked, “Do you love being president of the university?” It was not a question he was prepared for, and—caught off guard and at a loss for words—he remained silent to the point of everyone’s discomfort, until he finally responded, “I don’t know.” Ultimately this forced self-reflection and recognition that indeed he was not happy was the catalyst for a big life change. He would have been the first to tell you that it was the best career choice he’d ever made.

That sense of dissatisfaction came from precisely the challenge discussed in the previous paragraphs: he had left academia and the study of management practice to get out of the ivory tower and into the “real world,” to take on a real-life management role and see if his ideas about management could be applied in practice the way he thought they could. He spent almost a decade in that pursuit. But all he was able to find time to do during those years (years when he left for work before I woke up for school in the morning and usually didn’t make it home until after I was long asleep) was manage the day-to-day “trivialities” of administration: reply to complaints, work through piles of papers… put out fires (or so he felt, though he would be remembered far later by the students and junior faculty at the time quite differently).

The insight wasn’t trivial and it wasn’t lost on him. It is the story he tells to explain why he left that work (in an applied leadership position) to return to academia, and how he decided to shift his focus from management to leadership. It launched a new academic career that many would consider the origin story of the field of leadership studies. The motivation was essentially to understand what might separate the job he had been doing as university president (primarily the job of management) from the job he thought he should have been doing, the job that great organizational heads do (what he saw as the job of a good leader), what distinguished effective managers from great leaders. In large part, that is the story of how you move from putting out fires all day to building something great. To quote him: “the manager maintains, the leader develops” (from On Becoming a Leader). He felt he had been maintaining and not developing, and to his credit he took himself out of that context where that was all he could manage to do, and put himself into a context where he could develop.

I had spent much of the seven years before closing Locus Workspace-Muzuem maintaining, constantly aware that I need to be developing, but unable to find the time to do it. The decision to close Locus–Muzeum inspired optimism because it promised time to stop putting out fires and to focus on a bigger vision.

A key insight from my father’s own journey is how important the environment is to one’s ability to make that transition successfully. My sense is that he could not have done it while remaining a university president. The fires would continue to need to be put out. That essential element of time, which all good leaders need in order to reflect on what is most important, to maintain and evolve a strong vision, and to communicate that vision to others, would never be there. So he had the wisdom—thanks in no small part to that one incisive question—to change his environment so that he could change himself.

It is no coincidence that changing one’s environment in order to successfully change oneself is a central theme of this blog post and of the decision to close the original Locus. It is also the original and ongoing motivation behind Locus Workspace itself. Locus—as with most successful coworking spaces—was created with the conviction that the environment is essential to successful location-independent work; even more important than the traits of the workers themselves (except to the extent they have the capacity to choose and create effective environments for themselves).

Freelancers, remote workers, digital nomads, and other location-independent professionals face one of the greatest challenges among all business people becausewithout the right environmentthey are largely alone, their own source of motivation, accountability, and continuing education. We humans, in many ways the most social of the social animals, can’t be our best on our own, no matter how talented or driven we are when we start our solo journey. As my father changed his environment so he could transition from manager to leader (in helping to develop the field of leadership studies itself), coworking spaces like Locus help change location-independent professionals’ environments so they can can work for themselves not by themselves. Closing Locus–Museum reflects a conscious effort to change my own environment so that I can work on my company, not for my company. A good reason for optimism.

It doesn’t hurt knowing that Locus’s next years are probably going to be the best ones yet.

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part II—RELIEF

On July 8th we posted the first in a series of three blog posts about closing Locus–Muzeum, Locus’s first coworking space. Just to be sure it remains clear, Locus Workspace itself is not closing, just that one location. We are consolidating at Locus’s Vinohrady location at Slezská 45.
The story of Locus’s closing is largely the story of three distinct emotions, sadness, relief, and optimism. The first post explained why SADNESS was so central. This post explains the RELIEF! The next post will share our OPTIMISM about what’s to come.
Given how much personal meaning Locus–Muzeum had for me and all the good things that were part of that coworking space which made closing so hard, why would there also be relief? As with the post describing the good things that made closing sad, there were three main negatives. With the closure of that location, we get to say goodbye to those negative. Aaaahhhhh. Relief. Here they are…

1. Locus–Muzeum was never the ideal coworking space

Locus started at the Muzeum location for many reasons, none of which were because it was an ideal space for coworking. Locus began in a 105 square meter flat. It’s a beautiful, homey flat with three walk through rooms, a jacuzzi-style bathtub, a full-kitchen. The three walk through rooms made it in many ways better for a coworking space than for a flat, but still it was a flat. Not great for events, no good way to expand or even improve the interior meaningfully, no private office options, no place for a future coworking cafe.
So why start with a non-ideal spot? The location was great (a 3 minute walk from the Muzeum metro, couldn’t be more central). The price was amazing (17 000 Kc + 4000 Kc estimated for utilities). And I was committed to starting small and learning from experience rather than trying to get investors and build the perfect model from scratch and find out later that it was the wrong model, or that I just wasn’t suited for the job. For the price and location and style, I hadn’t seen anything close to as nice for coworking in Prague, giving my commitment to starting small and learning from experience. It was the perfect “starter model.”
But from the beginning it was just an experimental “minimum viable product;” a test case to learn how coworking works, to see how it suited me, and to make sure my idea of a “sure thing” social business could actually succeed. Assuming all went well, I expected to move on to a different location after a year or two. From that perspective, closing Locus–Muzeum was a positive step in that direction, it just took a half decade longer than expected.   

2. Adding an extra location seems like it will more than double the value, but take less than double the work. It won’t.

In late 2012 we had 78 members, the space was full, and I had to decide whether to create a waitlist and stop accepting new members, or to expand and open a second location. We weren’t making enough money to justify continuing long-term with just one location, so it was really a choice between expanding then, expanding later, or just closing down. I decided it was the right time to expand.
Part of my reasoning about expanding was the idea that having two locations in Prague would add value to each member and to each location: members would have the option to work from more than one place (for a small extra fee), and the marketing put toward either location would add value to the other one. Along with the synergy expected from a 2nd location, it also seemed like there would be much less work per space. We could have events at one location or the other, we could use the same cleaners at a discount price, interns would have no difficulty moving between spaces if needed since the systems were the same, accounting, legal advice, etc., would essentially be for the same business.
I also decided to increase prices for new members. Prices were in fact too low to make this a sustainable business, and I thought with the added value and expected added exposure, this would be a good time for a price increase. Given what I knew then, I think it was (mostly) a good decision.
Given what I know now, it was a terrible decision. Thank you, Berta, Locus’s employee at the time, for working through the most difficult time in Locus’s history and putting up with me during the most stressful period this business owner has yet experienced. So why were these decisions (to expand and increase the prices) so bad?
First of all, we decided to expand right at Locus’s peak (though I didn’t know at the time it was a peak). Shortly after signing the contract, we lost about 25% of Locus’s membership. Some left because of the season (I now know there’s always a downturn at the end of the calendar year for several months into the new year), some left because the space was fuller than ever and they wanted to work from a less-crowded space, and some because a tight-knit group decided to get a private office together and some of their colleagues moved along with them. The loss in members—I think without any other loss in quality—made the space significantly less attractive as a coworking space.
And just as that new reality hit, it was time to open the new location. Already there were too few members for the original location, but I remained hopeful that the expansion and the change in seasons would lead to the growth we expected. Of course the expansion didn’t work that way.
Many members from the old location moved to the new one, making the original location even less “coworking like”, but not enough to give the new space more than a mostly empty feeling. A big part of what people pay for when they join a coworking space is the community, or at least the social setting, working productively alongside others with that motivating social pressure and the comfort of not being alone. Almost overnight, that was gone.
When we originally opened Locus, we explicitly set full-time membership at half-price, making it clear that it was a special price to compensate for the fact that we didn’t yet have the community that gives a big part of the value to coworking. That worked wonderfully and we were able to double prices later without any surprise to our members or any net loss in memberships.
But now we were already charging full price and suddenly we didn’t have enough members either location to feel like a healthy coworking space. We couldn’t turn back the prices without a LOT of work and a big loss from our existing members, and we needed the money. For the first year or so of having the 2nd location open, we were very near to deciding to close the new location on more than one occasion. It remained far less full than the original and cost more to operate. That didn’t help member comfort, since of course the members want to know their office is not on the verge of closing from day to day.
But then something changed. The new location gradually became more popular and profitable than the original, and that trend just continued over time, until the new Locus (objectively a better place for coworking) was doing great in its own right. The original location, on the other hand, never recovered.
A second big problem with the expansion was that rather than adding value, the two locations seemed to reduce the value. Almost no one worked at both locations, and we had very little success signing up new members (for the first time in our history, we didn’t get a new member for more than a month). Unfortunately, I made the novice mistake of changing two things at the same time, increasing the prices and opening a second location. Along with the decrease in community in both locations, this made it difficult to guess well about what caused the stall in new memberships. I think all three changes were part of the cause.
The price change was an obvious culprit. It’s the only reliable metric people thinking about joining a coworking space can use before they actually visit a space (and most people don’t visit more than one or two spaces), since you need more than a tour to get a real feel for the community. We cater to freelancers and other location-independent professionals, and that particular demographic also thinks about the cost of an office more than, say, your average Silicon Valley billionaire.
But the price increase wasn’t so extreme and it didn’t make sense to me that it would have such a large impact. Counterintuitively, I think the bigger culprit was paradox of choice: members had to pick a home location and pay a 5% surcharge to use both locations. I thought the price was so small it would only stop people who wouldn’t use a second location at all. But in fact almost no one wanted to use both locations, so even the 5% surcharge was enough to think twice. More than that, though, just having to choose a location added a step in the decision process. Perhaps it was easier not to make a choice at all, and just try a different coworking space instead. Well there’s a hypothesis anyway. Thankfully, it was relatively easy to address both problems. The price change only affected new members, so we rolled back prices to the pre-expansion rates. We removed the paradox of choice by dropping the need to choose between spaces altogether. All members could work at either location, no surcharge. Almost immediately, new members started to roll in. Of course, with a lot more experience now, I recognize it all could have been due to the change in the season, chance, and other events outside my frame.
But there were other costs to the split locations. We had to choose which improvements to make where, and which events to hold where, and in general the two spaces were different, with distinct pros and cons. Many members would perceive an improvement or an offering at one location as a kind of diminished relative value of their own location, so there was a real sense in which we had to strive to offer the same kinds of activities at each location, even though the demand wasn’t there and the expenses and work would be much higher. As such, the fact that the two spaces were working largely as a single coworking membership meant a meaningful loss in perceived value for everyone. Furthermore, since the managers had to worry about two spaces across town, it also meant a large objective increase in work for us and a drop in the quality of service provided to either space. And members felt the difference.
It eventually became clear that either the two locations should be completely separate entities, or they just shouldn’t be located in the same town at all. For this reason alone, I decided it would be better to have a single great space than to have two separate spaces each trying to do part of the job. A better experience for members, a better coworking space, and more time for me to think about the bigger picture rather than day-to-day management issues. Another reason it felt right to close Locus–Muzeum.

3. Oh the power of a bad building owner.

There’s lots to be said for leasing rather than buying the building where you run your business, particularly if it’s in a rapidly developing industry like coworking and you’re still learning about how to run the business. The obvious benefit is cost: we couldn’t have afforded to buy our building even if we’d wanted to. And, of course, as an entrepreneur learns over time what they want from the business, the ideal location is apt to change. It is nice to have a relatively easy option to move.
That said, there are many costs to not owning the property. There are many decisions about access to the space and the kinds of services you can provide that depend on the good will of the building owner (or a really good original contract). What’s more, as many people with experience in the coworking industry can attest, the building owners are often not the upstanding citizens we first take them to be. Many coworking space owners have told the story of their landlord or landlady deciding that coworking seems like a very nice business model and deciding to ramp up the rent or just open a competing space with better terms in the same building. Alternatively, the rents may just go up on their own, or the owner may decide coworking is not a good fit for their building and make the life of the tenant difficult, even if the contract is long term and doesn’t permit raising the rent.
In Locus’s case, the owner—or perhaps the new property management company that took over for the owner—simply began to do a series of harmful things for our business and refused to communicate about it or help remedy it. Try as I might, I could not come up with a reasonable story about why it was happening, so I made up unreasonable stories (hey, they’re the best I had). If they wanted higher rent or just wanted us out of the building, they could have simply raised the rents or ended our lease agreement, which was only on a year-to-year basis as it was. Instead, they just started to act like slum lords.
They changed the bells for each flat to a system that made events in the space extremely hard to manage, and refused to let us pay for our own bell system to solve the problem. They took promised advertising space off the outside of the building and gave it to other tenants without telling us. The heat stopped working in winter, for 1.5 months, and we had to battle to get space heaters that would warm the rooms enough for people to work, much less to get reimbursed for the costs. They stopped paying for interior repairs that were part of the contract or verbal agreements. They invoiced Locus for private contracts they had with Locus’s members, and they invoiced us for other services they never provided. And in every case, just to get a response about the issues often took weeks or months. It came to the point where we could not make improvements to the interior without the sense we were putting it toward a lost cause, and Locus’s Muzeum members were left with the general sense that we might announce the closing of the business any day, since it was true. After about four years of what had been a great relationship with the property manager and the building owner, a change in management and the unwillingness of the owner to discuss any of it with us precipitated a complete breakdown in our ability to manage the space.
It must be true in every business, but it is no less true in the coworking business: a bad landlord/landlady can be a catastrophe. It was clearly time to leave. I cannot do justice to the sense of relief we felt in finally closing Locus’s Muzeum location just with respect to allowing us to end an unstable business relationship. Since it was due time to close Locus–Muzeum anyway, we owe a big thank you to the property owner and the management company for making that sad reality feel like such a great relief!
Next Post: R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part III—OPTIMISM. Why we are so excited about what’s to come!

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part I—SADNESS

It is with great SADNESS, great RELIEF, and great OPTIMISM that we announce the closing of Locus–Muzeum,  Locus’s first coworking space.

Locus–Muzeum closed its doors on April 15, 2017, after just under 7 years of operation. Don’t worry: Locus Workspace is NOT closing. Our 2nd location at Slezská 45 in Vinohrady is going strong and this was undoubtedly a positive move for Locus.

Why three such distinct emotions? And why wait so long to tell the story of why we closed?

This first of three blog posts tells the story of sadness. The next two will tell the stories of relief and optimism, hopefully conveying why sadness, despite its centrality, gives way to the more positive emotions of relief and optimism.

Mafia Night. Thank you, Nadya, for making Mafia Nights an unqualified success;
my favorite social activity at Locus, hands down.

WHY SADNESS?
There are many obvious reasons one might feel bad about closing the doors of one’s business: a sense of personal failure, financial loss, missed opportunities, or regret over poor choices all might be expected.

Fortunately for Locus and for me, none of those reasons plays a central role in the current situation. Instead the sadness stems primarily from having to say goodbye to something good.

I think they tell (part of) a good story about the entrepreneurial experience in general and about the history of the Czech Republic’s longest-running coworking space—yes, Locus Workspace—in particular.

1. Saying goodbye to a big part of personal and entrepreneurial history

Locus–Muzeum was Locus’s first location and my own first business (assuming you don’t count a lemonade stand or two, charging an entry fee to the living room at my parents’ parties when I was four or five, or my first attempt at starting a business in Prague in 1995, which never made it to opening day). It was also the second coworking space to open in Prague (after Coffice, the first coworking space in the Czech Republic, which closed its doors a couple years ago). And, at closing, it was the longest running coworking space in Prague, or the Czech Republic for that matter. It opened on May 4th, 2010 (about a month before Impact Hub’s Prague location).

Locus has a lot of history given the young history of coworking as a concept, and that history is now part of me, and a big part of what saddens me to say goodbye.

2. Saying goodbye to rich experiences, great accomplishments, deep relationships, and no small bit of idealism

More than that historical significance, closing Locus–Muzeum was sad because of the deep personal meaning it had, not just for me but for many of its members. My second son, Adam, was born the same month Locus opened. We had our first movie nights at Locus (thank you Evi and Yuri for your Belgian and Russian treats); joined writing meetups that were part of the completion of several members’ books and Master’s theses; participated in Mastermind meetings that saw people achieve major life-transition goals (career changes, finished degrees, business pivots including my own, etc.); imagined we’d write and perform an updated version of Čapek’s R.U.R. (the original story of robots) as a satirical play (or musical?!) using real—and really small—robots (thank you, Florian and Lauren for your passions to create!); became perhaps the first coworking space in the world to accept Bitcoin back in 2011, thanks to the time and passion from the creator of the first bitcoin mining pool and the first hardware BTC wallet, Trezor (thanks, Slush!); shared hundreds of lunches and dozens of pub nights with long conversations about philosophy, the future of work, inspiring entrepreneurial ideas, and ways we might all make the world a better place. Etc., etc., etc. Locus–Muzeum was an active center of my social-, work-, and creative life for 3 years, and it shared that center with Locus–Vinohrady for another 4 years.

R.U.R., the musical comedy?
It could have been the first show in the world with robots in the starring roles,
beating the above production by a year or two.

3. Closing Locus–Muzeum meant the end of a center for productive, enjoyable work

Bill King wrote the latest book for the World of Warcraft media empire in preparation for WoW–Legion and the Warcraft film (along with writing another five or ten books at Locus). Thanks, Bill, for helping make Locus proud! 
Illidan was lauded by many fans as the best storytelling the WoW universe has seen.

The saddest part about closing Locus, however, was knowledge of the effect it would have on the people who worked there. Locus was an active coworking space with about 50 members working out of that location at the time we closed (and hundreds of members from almost 50 countries over its seven years in operation). These members cared about Locus, helped make it what it was, and did not particularly want to see it close. Shutting down an office when it only affects you is one thing; for the most part it requires a simple weighing of financial costs and benefits. Closing an office when it impacts the well-being of dozens of others is an entirely different animal; not just a financial decision, but a moral one, and one that no doubt kept Locus–Muzeum running longer than it otherwise would have.

 

So, that’s most of what made closing Locus–Muzeum sad. But why relief and optimism? Just as the sadness came from saying goodbye to something good, the relief came from saying goodbye to some things not-so-good (and hello to something better). The optimism, on the other hand, comes from our anticipated future, a future that will be helped by consolidating Locus into a single Vinohrady location.

But this blog post is long enough already, so those two emotional stories—or at least emotion stories—will have to wait for another day.

— Will Bennis, Founder & CEO of Locus Workspace