Try this idea out: You’re starting your own business. It’s just you. You’ve already quit that other job, so you’re working on it all day, every day. Consider some of these options:

The home office: You settle into a comfortable home office, work your computer, work your phones, and work your refrigerator. You take meetings at clients’ offices or coffee shops. You do printing jobs at Kinkos.

U.S. Coworking Families graph

You get companionship via Facebook and Twitter, and from your loved ones who share the house.  This worked well for me in my early stages, but a lot of people have trouble dealing with borders between home and work. My worst problem was the proximity to the refrigerator. The rent’s free, and the coffee is in the kitchen. And your favorite distractions are all there with you.

The small office: You ante up a monthly rental amount and open an office in a nearby office space. Now you have somewhere to go so you can separate work from home and draw those borders. Maybe, if it’s big enough, now you can take a meeting in the office. You have no distractions. And you walk to coffee alone, and get lunch alone. When the phone’s not ringing, you have your own thoughts to keep you company. Here too, these days, you might get companionship via Twitter and Facebook. But who are we kidding: That’s still just reading and typing.

I’ve done both of these first two options at different times. I’ve also had the home office with a couple of employees, which worked for a while but was really hard on the family, with non-family people in the house 40 hours or so a week. Back in the middle 1980s, when I was still in the home office in Palo Alto, some friends  who were also single-person businesses worked together in an open office space downtown where they could rent something like a cubicle with a desk in a large, open office space. They shared a meeting room, a copy machine and a fax machine. They also had company, and coworkers for the discussion of the latest draft, and the quick walk to the corner for coffee. And their rent, based on a desk and a cubicle, was less than for a small office. It seemed a nice compromise.

These days, that third option is called coworking.

Coworking: In this case, unlike the classic one-person entrepreneur, you’re not alone. You have an office to go to. When you get there, other people are around, talking at the water cooler or while waiting for the printer. You can talk about the game last night or your latest version of your prototype website. You can look around and find somebody to walk around the corner with for a cup of coffee or to get lunch.

That comes up because I noticed today that my friend Steve King is tracking coworking spaces over at Small Business Labs. His company, Emergent Research, has counted more than 250 of them, all of which meet these criteria:

  1. Self-identify as providing coworking space
  2. Offer a range of membership options
  3. Offer community space and/or activities
  4. Have coworking as an important part of the facility offering
  5. Cater to those using the facility for work-related purposes
  6. Be active

Personally, the home office worked really well for me. But I always saw the advantage of coworking, and I’m glad to see Steve and his group are keeping track of this trend.

If you’re interested in coworking spaces, in his post today Steve promises:

Over the coming months we will continue our research on coworking and the future of the workplace.  We will, of course, continue to report our finding on this blog and on our coworking project blog.

(Image: from Emergent Research)

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.