As America’s professional work force becomes more decentralized, the neighborhood coffee shop has become the default office space for many mobile workers. That’s not a great solution — for the workers or the shop owners.
“Laptop loungers” often tie up space that could be used by other paying customers, while a busy coffee shop can be a difficult and distracting place to hold a business meeting.
The solution: so-called “co-working” spaces, which provide paying members with shared workspace and some basic amenities. But even those spaces don’t always meet the needs of today’s mobile professional, managerial and sales executives, according to Jeff O’Dell, founder and chairman of Café Inc., which opened its first location this month in Edina.
As he analyzed the market for collaborative workspace, “we found that the co-working spaces tended to be urban,” O’Dell said. “They’re a little crunchy — they’re for web developers, designers and so forth.
“We thought there was a need for a collaborative, professional work environment. We don’t call it co-working. We call it ‘pro-working’: professional and productive.”
O’Dell and his team have plans to open as many as 100 Café Inc. locations nationwide in the next five years, including 10 to 15 in the Twin Cities. Strategic partners in the venture include Fluid Interiors, Innovative Office Solutions, Engelsma Construction and Perkins + Will architecture.
Location and amenities are key to Café Inc.’s business model. The company plans to locate at suburban highway hubs — its first outlet is near highways 100 and I-494. The décor is more buttoned-down and the technology more robust than in a typical co-working space. Meeting rooms have flat-screen video monitors and whiteboard walls, along with plug-and-play audiovisual connections.
Mobile workers already carry their technology — laptops and phones. What they need are simple connections for using what they already have, O’Dell said. In some co-working spaces, users have to learn to operate a proprietary conference phone or download hardware drivers to interface with a projection system.
Another key amenity is upscale food and beverages. Café Inc. features the first Makers Café, a new concept by the owners of Dunn Bros. “It’s not full table service, but it’s more than a plastic-wrapped sandwich,” O’Dell said.
Several levels of membership are offered. A basic monthly membership runs $169 a month and offers full access seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For $49, you get the use of the space on weekends and after 5 p.m. on weekdays. Corporate membership packages are in the works and will be offered sometime in the next month or two.
On the day I visited, I talked with Kim Schmidt, a designer for R&R Construction of Minneapolis. Schmidt typically works out of one of the company’s model homes, but when the home is sold, she has to find a new workspace.
“We go to Caribou, and we assess them based on where their outlets are,” she said with a laugh. “I was in a Caribou recently sitting near the play area, and a kid started playing the drum really loud while I was on the phone. How can you complain? But it’s not ideal for business.”
O’Dell is betting that Schmidt and many like her will find his concept appealing.
“The mobile work force is here to stay,” he said. “You’re not going to stop that train.”