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Selecting the Best Shared Workspace for Your Tech Needs

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Q: What sort of technology should my startup look for in a shared workspace?

A: Co-working spaces have sprung up across the country, offering affordable desks or offices for freelancers, independent contractors and one- or two-person companies that aren't big enough to sign a long-term office lease. In addition to infrastructure, these spaces can offer proximity to other driven and enthusiastic people with diverse talents who can be hired quickly to assist with a project--and who, of course, pay their share of the rent.

Some of these offices are nothing more than raw space with thrift-shop furniture and a single Wi-Fi router. Others look like full-fledged corporate headquarters, with a receptionist and sleek new furnishings and telecom connections. To figure out what makes sense for a tech-based new business, we turned to Jenifer Ross, founder of Watercooler, a co-working space in Tarrytown, N.Y. 

Thirty-eight percent of people utilizing a co-working space say it directly improves their income.

Source: Deskmag's Global Coworking Survey

How should the space be structured?
Before considering technical issues, Ross says, pay attention to the floor plan. Does it contain a variety of workspaces, including private offices, closed-door meeting rooms, flex-desks for use by anyone and common lounge areas? You want something large enough to accommodate your company's growth in terms of staffers or customers, and flexible enough to handle any temporary workers (and their computers) you may need to hire in order to complete a project.

What about technical infrastructure? 
Wi-Fi is a start. Look for access to a stand-alone, workhorse color laser printer, copier, fax and scanner--"all-in-one models work fine," Ross says--through a wired network. If you know you'll need major internet bandwidth to handle large graphics or video files, hunt for a space that has invested in a high-speed T1 internet line and is wired with Ethernet cable for direct connections to the web. Often these setups will come with direct-dial VoIP phones as part of the rent. And, yes, you'll want to make sure the Wi-Fi signal reaches your section of the office.

Since many co-working spaces have open floor plans instead of individual offices, pay close attention to the conference room. Look for one with a phone line, an LCD projector or a wall-mounted HD TV with cables to connect to a laptop and teleconferencing equipment (see Shiny Objects, page 41). "With video being so important to companies today," Ross adds, "having shared access to a quality HD video camera and mic wouldn't hurt."

How do I manage all that technology?
Before committing to a space, Ross suggests you make sure there is an IT person on staff or a contract with a reliable tech service that's on call 24/7 to resolve the internet, hardware and software issues that undoubtedly will arise.