The first coworking space in North America opened in San Francisco in 2005.
Since then, tens of thousands of coworking spaces have opened in bustling city centers around the world including London, New York City, Berlin, and more.
From the beginning, coworking spaces have largely been confined to big cities. However, there is a new trend emerging in recent years – coworking in rural areas.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of rural coworking including what it is, why it’s becoming popular, and how to make it work as a coworking operator.
What is rural coworking?
Rural coworking is an unofficial term that encompasses coworking spaces located in small towns, suburban neighborhoods, or anywhere outside of a city center with a relatively small population.
These spaces are typically located in nature or outside of highly traveled areas and thus, may have a bit of a different clientele.
Coworking in rural places is becoming more popular in the age of remote work for a couple of reasons:
- More people moving outside of cities: there’s been an uptick in the population of rural areas as people are no longer required to live where they work, leading to a rise in rural coworking according to allwork.space
- Rise of “destination coworking”: people are taking workations or seeking out destination coworking spaces, where they travel to a new place to work according to Business Chief
This presents a great opportunity, both to coworkers and coworking operators, to take advantage of the growing trend of rural coworking.
Benefits of rural coworking spaces
There are many potential benefits to rural coworking spaces for coworkers. It can be an opportunity to cultivate community, explore new places, or de-stress away from the city.
To learn more about how rural coworking spaces can positively impact overall mood and satisfaction for coworkers, check out this article published in Sage Journals earlier this year.
There are also many benefits to opening a rural coworking space including:
- Lower rental costs and therefore more competitive prices
- Supporting local business initiatives
- Creating a tight-knit community to support one another, even outside of busy city centers
- Capitalize on the growing destination coworking trend
Opening a rural coworking space can be a great business opportunity, and a wonderful way to support your community.
Drawbacks of rural coworking spaces
Rural coworking spaces do not come without its challenges however. Here are some of the most common challenges faced by those who open coworking spaces in rural areas:
- The concept of coworking may be less known: depending on where you’re located, it’s possible that coworking is a lesser known concept. This creates a need for education, and can make it more difficult to acquire members.
- Larger homes and home offices: those who live in rural areas are likely to have more space in their house to work, including a home office, and may not be as attracted to the ideas of “getting out of your house” to work somewhere else.
- Less potential members: there are only so many people you can attract to work in your space in a small town. If you aren’t in a large tourist area, then you may find attracting members to be a challenge.
- Low profitability: this is one of the greatest challenges of running a rural coworking space. You may have to get creative with your income streams in order to generate consistent revenue and drive business growth.
There are many challenges to operating in more remote parts of the world. Therefore, it’s important to do your research and create a strong business plan before deciding to open a rural coworking space.
Examples of rural coworking spaces
With all that being said, there are many wonderful spaces providing an excellent experience to their members no matter where they’re located.
Here are three Optix clients who are serving their rural coworking communities.
Port Hope, Ontario, Canada
OfficeLinx is a coworking space in Port Hope, ON, a small town in Canada with just 16,000 people.
They offer a professional atmosphere and a heap of amenities to support their growing membership base including 24-hour access, a cafe, and an on-site child care facility affectionately known as “Kinderlinx”.
West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA
align.Space is another coworking space located in a small town of about 18,000 people. They sell themselves as a business club, and offer delightful perks to their members including complimentary hot breakfast every weekday.
They also offer 2,200 square feet of event space to rent, which is a great way to drive revenue in the absence of lots of members.
Ossining, New York, USA
Speak Easy 10562 is a coworking space for creatives, located in Hudson Valley. They offer the typical coworking amenities, along with a thriving community of creative individuals to network with and learn from.
Take some inspiration from the spaces above if you’re looking to tackle rural coworking.
Key considerations when opening a rural coworking space
If you’re considering opening a coworking space in a less populated area of the world, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Consider making your space a “destination coworking space” to drive more revenue
One potential solution for the low critical mass of small towns is to sell your coworking space as a trip in and of itself. You can make your space a destination by:
- Offering rooms or bungalows for people to stay the night
- Incorporating a cafe and restaurant into the space
- Making a large number of amenities available like a gym, on-site childcare, group activities, and more
In order to be successful in creating a destination coworking space, you’ll need to think of your space as less of a coworking space and more of a hotel or resort.
If this sounds like a massive undertaking, then consider setting up exclusive partnerships with local hotels by offering hotel guests a discount on coworking for the day or week. This can help you acquire customers at a lower acquisition cost.
2. Selling how you’re better than their house becomes important
Being able to sell the benefits of coworking over someone’s home is necessary when looking to attract remote workers, especially those who live in the community you’re serving.
Those who live in rural areas are more likely to live in a single detached home, rather than a condo or apartment. This means they’re more likely to have larger spaces and home offices available to them, and thus may be less inclined to work outside of their home.
This is where selling the benefits of your coworking space becomes extremely important. These benefits could be anything from:
- Increased productivity
- Networking opportunities
- Access to amenities
- Ease of focus
One of the greatest benefits you can sell to coworkers? The community.
3. Think about how you will create community (and sell the benefits of it)
As mentioned, community becomes especially important in rural areas, as it serves as one of the primary benefits of coworking spaces.
Therefore, it’s important to put a lot of thought into how you will begin to build community in your space, and how you will sell the benefits of this community to prospective members.
Community building is an art in coworking spaces. You can hold monthly happy hours for members, bring in keynote speakers, or hold networking events or lunch & learns to aid in professional development.
There are also opportunities to use technology to build a community before you open your coworking space. Whatever you do, don’t forget to drive home the value that a strong coworking community can bring to your members
4. Public support is essential
Getting public support of initiatives in small towns is incredibly important. The notion that “everybody knows everybody” tends to ring truer in areas that are more sparsely populated, so it’s important to make a positive impression and garner the support of everyone around you from the get-go.
Some ways to begin relationship building, especially if you’re new to the area, can be:
- Introducing yourself to local businesses and offering free trials to your coworking space
- Setting up mutually beneficial partnerships with local businesses to offer to your members (and their customers)
- Attending local community events
- Speaking at a public hearing with local government
Becoming involved in the community and showing how coworking can benefit everyone is a great way to get people on board with your business and acquire new members in the future.
5. Automation can be the secret to creating a sustainable coworking space
Creating a profitable coworking space means being mindful of your finances and operating with efficiency in mind.
One of the most effective ways of reducing your overhead and improving your operational efficiency is through automating as much as you possibly can and creating an autonomous coworking space.
With the help of technology, you can automate:
It’s possible to run an entirely autonomous space, one where you don’t have to be present in the space, through automating things like member management, access control, and more.
Rural coworking… here to stay?
With people making the permanent move to more rural areas and flexible work being on the rise, it’s likely that we will continue to see a growth in rural coworking spaces.
Everyone should be able to gain the multitude of benefits of coworking, and it’s great to see these becoming accessible to those outside of major cities.
Want to learn more about unique coworking niches and trends? Explore the world of nature-inspired coworking spaces on the Optix blog.