Geeknet is organized as a virtual workforce with an office in Ann Arbor, and Brondsma occasionally makes the two-hour drive for face-to-face meetings. He also used to meet a coworker at The Factory once a week and, even though he has since transferred to a different team, he and Brondsma still get together every once in a while. "Mostly I'm here for the socialization, the sense of community," Brondsma says.
That said, it isn't all social. Annie Klooster, the Factory's operations manager, tells me workers use headphones as a sort of social signal-anyone wearing headphones is busy and not open to questions or conversation. (The Factory does have work spaces dedicated to heads-down, don't-bother-me work.) An earbud in one ear means quick questions, but only quick questions, are fine. Klooster adds that, yes, people do wear headphones without actually listening to anything.
How to Find a Coworking Space Near You
Besides The Factory, West Michigan has a few other coworking facilities. Both The Cottage and Regus have desks for rent. Regus tends to focus on virtual offices and meeting spaces as opposed to establishing a community, while the Cottage falls somewhere in the middle.
Two tools for finding coworking spaces near you include Desksnear.me and CoworkingRegistry.org. Desksnear.me is tied directly to Google Maps-type in your location and push-pins will suggest places where you might want to work-but is unfortunately sparsely populated. For now, if both tools fail, you can always try a Google search for "Coworking (city),(state/province)."
While the movement is not universal, there are multiple coworking spaces in every major U.S. city; Grand Rapids, with a city population of only 188,000 and an extended metropolitan area of around 700,000, has three or four facilities.
Three or four? There's one more story to tell.
FoodCircles: From Coworking Tenant to Landlord
As I put the final touches on the research for this article, my phone rings; it's Jonathan Kumar, who I met at The Factory the previous week. At the time, he was in a state of incredible haste; his company had just outgrown The Factory and purchased its own office space a few blocks north.