What I Learned After Interning In a Co-working Space

As I write this, it’s 10:20 am on the first day of my second week of my internship at Cahoots, a co-working space in downtown Ann Arbor. I’m hoping that a few extra sips of coffee from my “Freudian Sips” mug might allow me to overcome this writer’s block. When asked to make a new post for our blog I wasn’t sure what to write. It’s a daunting task when I thought of how new I was. At the time of writing, I have worked here for a total of 41 hours and 20 minutes and I still feel as though I am learning the ropes, partially because I am. Then I realized honest, self-reflection might be the best way to describe what it’s like working at Cahoots. For anyone new to the term co-working, according to a quick Google search is, “the use of an office or other working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers, typically so as to share equipment, ideas, and knowledge.” I like to think of it as a crowdsourced tech campus for startups. It’s a way to try to sell the Google-esque experience without being Google-sized yet.

Cahoots is a co-working space in Ann Arbor, MI where startups, small companies, or individuals can rent workspace by the desk as they grow. It was founded by a group of local, serial entrepreneurs hoping to deepen density in the Ann Arbor tech scene. In 2015, they purchased three buildings in downtown Ann Arbor with the hopes of creating a home for emerging companies in the area. Currently, one of the three building is operational and houses some of the largest Ann Arbor startups like Trove and Clinc. Two of the other buildings are scheduled to have construction completed within the next six months. The design is modern, open, where not even the owners have their own offices. This is done to encourage collaboration and communication. The vibe is totally different from anywhere else I have worked. For my first post on Medium, here’s a few things I learned working in a co-working space:

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1. There’s a beauty to chaos in moderation

For a bit of background, I’m originally from Lansing, Michigan. I went to school at an early college there for three years before coming to the University of Michigan to study business. For those that don’t know, there’s a coffee chain called Biggby that originated in Lansing. Lansing people don’t just like Biggby, they’re obsessed with it. I used to study there every day after school. For me, coffee shops have just enough liveliness to be an incubator for productivity. The music, the people, the caffeine all act as catalysts. If I’m working on something for hours, I can distract myself for a few minutes then get back to work.

A co-working space for me combines a personal desk with the vibes of a coffee shop. The space is lively, there’s always something going on, but it’s also controlled enough to be a productive place of work. The place simply reminds me of my old Lansing Biggby spot. In that way, I find that co-working differs from a traditional office. It’s a place to be productive, but there’s also more energy in the environment to give yourself a mental break from work every once in a while.

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2. You’ll be surrounded by people doing something different and that’s good!

My first day at Cahoots I was introduced to so many people working on so many different technologies and projects. I could spend weeks researching all the startups hosted here and still be amazed by the work they do. I’ll use my neighbors as an example. In front of me sits Dominic. He’s the VP of Engineering for a Washington-based edtech company. To my left is Brandon, a product engineer for the company ShapeLog that tries to more accurately measure metrics while working out to improve performance. His desk is covered in electrical components and tools that I couldn’t even pronounce, much less know how to utilize.

Co-working spaces don’t just encourage collaboration, they thrive off of it. Being surrounded by people with such a diverse level of skills and backgrounds encouraged me to discuss things I am not entirely familiar with. But by doing this I have been able to learn and expand my network into areas previously unknown to me. To put it simply, when I came to the University of Michigan, I knew I wanted to work with startups. A traditional office would have had me work on one startup, while a co-working space has allowed me to work with dozens.

3. It’s OK to take care of yourself mentally and physically

For a long time, offices were designed to be bland and isolated on purpose. Managers assumed that a lack of distractions leads to increased productivity. Many companies are now starting to acknowledge flaws in this design. Engaged and happy employees tend lead to less turnover which leads to a stronger and more stable company. Additionally, many studies point out that, taking periodic breaks helps increase productivity than trying to pound away work for hours at a time. We see these adjustments being made at large companies like Google and Facebook as they change their work locations to be friendlier to employees.Co-working spaces crowdsource this to their membership, so these offerings don’t only have to belong to larger companies.

If I’m feeling overwhelmed on a given day I can step out for a second and play some darts in the front lobby. If I get tired of working at a desk, and I often do, I can move for a few minutes to work on a couch, in a new nook or open , sunny space. Once construction of the building is complete, I could relax in the library for a few minutes or go to the gym to destress that way. While some of these things may sound unimportant, the luxury of being able to unwind at the office is often very underrated. A report from the American Psychological Association shows that work was the 2nd highest cause of ANY stressor among respondents, ranking above the economy, relationships, and family problems. Being able to reduce this stress doesn’t just lead to a better workplace, but a better over the quality of life.

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Final Thoughts

This article has been a side project of mine for a weeks now. It’s now 4:58 pm on Monday of my last week as I type out these few sentences. Bottom line, where we work is more than just a desk. I think it’s cool that my office has dart boards and couches and a weekly event called beer thirty, but it’s the underlying environment of collaboration that has really stuck with me throughout the experience thus far.

The Cahoots Team