There is a fortune cookie fortune slipped in the corner of the “Welcome to CoCo” sign of Fargo’s brand new co-working space on 122 N. Broadway. It reads, “Really great people make you feel that you too can become great.”
This idea that the community you surround yourself with has a direct effect on your work is a driving factor behind the collaborative workspaces popping up around the world. It’s why freelancers, entrepreneurs, and workers from all fields are making the transition to co-working spaces. For Coco, which stands for co-working and collaborative space, it is fundamental.
“It’s worth it [to be a CoCo member] because of the community aspect involved,” said CoCo Fargo’s community manager Rachel Sternhagen. “That’s what we’re trying to create here – a CoCo community.”
CoCo began in 2010, when co-founders Don Ball and Kyle Coolbroth had the idea of opening a meeting place where people could ideate in an entrepreneurial context. According to Ball, “we were so excited about the idea that we ran with it and opened our first location in St. Paul two months later.”
In the four years since then, CoCo has expanded to Minneapolis, Uptown, and now, Fargo.
“We’ve been looking to expand regionally for some time. And you can imagine the list of cities that might be good candidates,” Ball said. “What Fargo has going for it is a group of energetic boosters, in the form of Emerging Prairie. They convinced us that if we didn’t come to Fargo, we’d be missing out on something big.”
Thanks to a three-year grassroots effort from the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, Kilbourne Group, and Emerging Prairie, the goal of bringing co-working to Fargo was realized when CoCo opened its doors on September 15.
Step inside the newly opened CoCo Fargo and the first eye-catcher is a vintage bank vault door leaning next to a bright orange couch. Posters announcing CoCo as a pet-friendly space hang nearby, as well as a flyer for CoCo’s private social network.
Move your gaze to the left and you’ll see an actual bank vault, filled now, not with money, but whiteboard walls and small cushions to sit on. To the right is a lounge area, flaunting high back armchairs, a coffee cart, and suspended chandelier lighting. Long tables of smooth reclaimed wood fill the bulk of the space, surrounded by large windows overlooking downtown. One would never guess that the place used to be the second floor of the century-old Merchants National Bank Building.
“It’s really impressive what they’ve done here,” said Annika Nynas of Emerging Prairie during an orientation of the space, mentioning that prior to CoCo’s move-in the building was falling apart.
Now there’s not a speck to be seen in the polished 6,000 square foot space, which includes two conference rooms with whiteboard walls and Apple TVs, five campsites for small groups and 10 desks for soloists. There is also a bright blue kitchen stocked with coffee and tea, and around the corner, another bank vault lounge. This one has a doorway framed by original brick wall peeking through the blue paint. Upon seeing this entrance, Mike McGee co-founder of The Starter League said, “Here’s where the Kool-Aid man came through.”
Like all CoCo locations, CoCo Fargo is run on a membership basis; the lowest fee includes once a week access to the facilities during normal business hours, and highest allows you 24/7 access with a dedicated private desk. The space is designed to accommodate 100 members comfortably, according to Ball. So far there are 17 members, according to Sternhagen.
All members are entitled to plentiful amounts of coffee and tea, learning programs, and shared basic WI-FI access with an all-in-one printer. CoCo Fargo is also equipped with Gigabit Internet, one of the fastest Internet connections available, thanks to a partnership with 702 Communications.
But besides having access to the space and tools of a workplace, members are also a part of an active community. This week CoCo Fargo will be hosting mimosa and muffins Monday, a Sweeto Burrito buffet lunch on Wednesday, and ice cream treats on Friday.
The Co-working Revolution
While CoCo is new to the Fargo area, the idea of collaborative workspace has been a developing concept for over 50 years and is only gaining strength as more workers choose to work independently. According to a survey by the Freelancer’s Union, 30 percent of the US workforce are independent workers. This growing number, coupled with shrinking cubicle sizes, has created a demand for spaces where workers can do their jobs efficiently in a creative space. Collaborative workplaces like CoCo have risen to meet that demand.
Of course, independent workers can always work at a coffee shop or at home. The difference, Ball says, is that at co-working spaces you are surrounded by others doing similar work, and can engage in insightful conversations.
“At a coffee shop… it’s not cool to approach somebody with something interesting on their screen and ask, ‘hey, what are you working on?’ At CoCo, not only can you ask such a question, but it’s a welcome part of the culture,” Ball said.
Conner Scott, the Community Manager intern for CoCo Uptown this summer, said that while there are common areas for socializing, there are also quiet zones where workers keep their heads down and their minds in the game.
“First and foremost, people are there to work,” he said. “But everyone there is really ready to socialize too. They have a groove going on that says, ‘I’m here to work but work isn’t my life.’”
With its balance of work and play, CoCo could also pose a solution to an increasing inability to focus in the workplace as highlighted by a Fall 2013 article by the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association. The survey revealed that workers are struggling to work effectively due to factors such as long work days and lack of focus. It states that in the future, “the most successful offices will feature a balanced mix of places where people can concentrate and those where they can collaborate, as well as learn and socialize.”
At CoCo, working and socializing often go hand and hand according to Ball.
“We see it happen all the time,” he said. “Members will have some idle conversation while getting coffee at the coffee bar, during a happy hour or while sitting across from one another – and that casual exchange leads to the formation of a new partnership.”
It’s revolutionizing of the workplace has brought CoCo much recognition, from various “Coolest Workplaces” lists (see Dwell and Inc.com), to a spot in Google’s new Tech Hub Network, a group of seven tech hubs intended to encourage entrepreneurship and boost regional economies. And the membership numbers in the Twin Cities are “inching towards the thousands,” according to Ball.
But perhaps the greatest asset CoCo brings to the community, Scott said, is that it’s more than a place to work. It’s a place that generates passion.
“They [CoCo] believe in bettering the economy, and the ecosystem that they live in,” Scott said. “It’s better to work somewhere that people are passionate about than to go to a cubicle farm and sit there every day.”
This passion is exactly what Ball hopes to see integrate into the community, to encourage the entrepreneurial growth he can already see in Fargo.
“I hope that we help contribute to the growth of downtown and give people even more reasons to come to Fargo to do the work of their dreams,” he said.
Photos of Rachel and of CoCo Fargo’s interior are courtesy of Marisa Jackels. Infographic courtesy of Deskmag.