Creative Coworking offers a new dynamic
You might call Brian Russell a “Renaissance man” of the digital world.
As a former multimedia designer, developer, consultant and blogger, Russell is used to haunting coffee shops and working alone.
Come mid-October, you’ll find him in Carrboro, laptop in hand, but now he won’t be by himself. Rather, he’ll be brewing a pot of coffee and communing with a new set of coworkers, ranging from freelance writers and editors to multimedia programmers and professional bloggers.
This unique landscape is Russell’s new business, known as Carrboro Creative Coworking. Slated to open the second week of October, the business is located in downtown Carrboro, at 205 Lloyd St., Suite 101, just a quarter of a mile from Weaver Street Market.
Originally a doctors’ office, the refurbished space is 3,049 square feet and consists of nine small offices, two conference rooms, a kitchen and public workspace. But it’s not an office in the traditional sense; he describes it as a professional shared workspace with a coffee shop vibe.
In addition to playing a major role in the 2006 launch of the Carrboro Commons, Russell has helped run a number of high-traffic websites, such as orangepolitics.com and his personal blog, yesh.com. And with more than 15 years of online multimedia design and development experience, Russell said he knows the difficulties of working independently. He explains it in terms of an “evolution.”
“People left the office and cubicle and they say, ‘OK, I’m going to break out.’… So you start doing that. You work at home. You want to get something better than the couch, so you get a table.… You start creating an office in a spare bedroom. That works great for a while,” Russell said.
“Then you get a little bored, and your spouse is like, ‘Why haven’t you gotten out of your pajamas in the past five days?’ And so they go and get dressed and take their laptop and bag and go to a coffee shop.”
“They do that for a while, but then the music starts to bug you. There aren’t enough electrical outlets.… You get frustrated, so you go back home.”
Ultimately, all those public places with social potential don’t have all the things you need, Russell said.
“There’s a big gap between working at a coffee shop and owning your own office.”
So Carrboro Creative Coworking is trying to fit that niche, he said. The space is outfitted with copiers, color printers and fax machines. Both conference rooms have large LCD screens that can be used for presentations. Professionals can rent spaces at the workplace based on their needs and the amount of time they plan to spend there. There are daily and part-time coworkers, as well as fulltime coworkers who buy space for Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Then there are office coworkers who rent one of the nine small offices.
Bora Zivkovic, an online community manager with the Public Library of Science and the creator of “A Blog Around the Clock,” will be sharing office space with two other individuals. Zivkovic works predominantly from home or at a coffee shop, but he said that during crunch time peace and quiet can be hard to come by.
“Most of the days, home is fine. But then there are times when … everybody is, you know – two dogs, a cat, kids and a wife – everybody’s on me,” said Zivkovic. “So I’m like, ‘OK, I need to go somewhere to concentrate for a couple hours.’”
And he said having the option of interaction with other professionals a couple of times a week could be really helpful.
“Everyone will bring different kinds of expertise and knowledge. It will be a place where you can get advice. Like, I have absolutely no idea how to code a thing,” Zivkovic said, laughing. “I build content but I really don’t know anything but HTML.”
Russell emphasized that Carrboro Creative Coworking will fit in with Carrboro’s environmentally conscious mentality. Although he has secured 15 parking spaces, he said he’d love for fellow coworkers to bike, walk and take public transportation.
Russell is even reconfiguring the traditional model for work-time socializing. He said there will always be plenty of caffeine to go around, as he’ll be brewing fresh coffee daily. And to show his commitment to conservation, Russell has replaced the token water cooler with a Brita filter over the kitchen faucet.
But he doesn’t anticipate that move will hamper social interaction. He said the coworking environment offers the unique opportunity to network while fostering friendships.
“A lot of professional development and networking is much more casual than it used to be,” he said. “Sometimes a lot of us now know more people online than we do in the physical world, and so this is an opportunity to meet some of the people we talk to online.”
Russell got the start-up money he needed through the Carrboro Revolving Loan Fund, a facet of Carrboro’s Community Development Block Grant income. The revolving loan fund helps finance projects that result in the creation or retention of jobs in the area.
Russell said Carrboro’s economic-development directors are currently grappling with the issue of commercial development, in part because it’s expensive to convince big companies to come to the area. But Russell said coworking centers like his are a great way to maintain business stability.
“I think the town of Carrboro realized that if you have a place to support these people and they do well and they learn to love Carrboro, then they’ll stay,” Russell said.
Russell said he’d love for Carrboro Creative Coworking to join the ranks of other successful loan-fund businesses, such as Weaver Street Market, Cat’s Cradle, Orange County Social Club and a more recent recipient, Neal’s Deli.
Russell has only one empty office left for rent, but he is still selling spots to full- and part-time coworkers.
“These folks thrive in these communities,” he said. “There are just all kinds of opportunities for that serendipity to create connections that could make a real difference.”
Caroline McMillan is a UNC student writing for the Carrboro Commons, a bi-weekly online lab newspaper for Jock Lauterer’s Community Journalism class at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.