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If office at home has lost its thrill, try co-working

November 15, 2008 6:19 am

WORKING at home sounds good. Really good. Until you do it.

Here's the ugly truth: Telecommuters often look in the mirror and find themselves unshaven, unwashed, dressed in a ratty T-shirt and boxers.

And they're bored. There's no one to bounce ideas off. There's no one to talk about fantasy football with at the water cooler--in part due to the fact that there's no water cooler.

So some people who work at home actually end up working at Starbucks, less for the stimulation of caffeine than for the stimulation of being around other human beings.

More and more people are working at home--some telecommuting and some because they've been laid off and are doing freelancing or consulting work without an office. And more and more people are finding themselves uninspired and smelly.

Enter "co-working," a new trend that's seeing laid-back office places open that often resemble coffee shops with desks and meeting rooms.

Paul Delagrange has opened the first co-working center in the Fredericksburg area, Businessplayce. (Learn more at businessplayce .com)

Delagrange owns a manufacturers rep firm, Arbotek, which represents semiconductor companies including Tyco, Intersil, Fujitsu and Honeywell, providing sales and technical support from Virginia to New Jersey.

For the last seven years his work space was in a local executive office suites building.

"Anyway, the place kinda went downhill, and everyone there came into their windowless offices, shut their doors and then left at the end of the day," Delagrange says. "No sense of community, boring--'sterile' is probably the best description. I found myself going to Starbucks or Tickers a couple times a week just to hear some noise, and maybe talk to someone different."

Then he heard about the co-working trend and spent the last year looking for the right property.

"Finally, I found it and I pulled the trigger," he said. It's in the Chancellor area.

"I hired a contractor to add some walls, bought some fun furniture, put up some funky paint, and here I am," Delagrange says.

And he already has had some clients move in.

"I strongly believe that co-working is on the verge of being the next big thing," Delagrange says. "It's not for everyone, but neither are executive office suites for everyone. "

With the economy in a "contraction," the business model makes even more sense, he says.

"As folks are laid off, many of them do their own thing and go into the consulting world. Short of a well- financed startup, a place like this where they can come and get out of the house, have some interaction and a conference room for a real meeting, makes sense."

He says he knows a lot of people work out of their homes in our area.

"What if just one day a week they get out, talk to some people, 'gel,' network, whatever you wanna call it --it makes sense to me," Delagrange says. "In just a short few weeks I have already signed up a lawyer, a math tutor and a Web developer. I'm doing the kind of viral marketing right now that I hope will spread and people will start to show up.

He says while the concept is "pretty new overall," it's "way new" to Fredericksburg.

Businessplayce will also serve as a place for art shows, and art will be a fixture in its working environment, a place where one can work on a laptop in a comfy chair and still have access to a formal conference room at low cost.

Delagrange is convinced Businessplayce will work as a business.

"How big is the market for co-working in Fredericksburg? We don't know. However, have you been to any Starbucks, Panera Bread or other public gathering places on any given workday? They are filled with people on laptops craving interaction. They need Businessplayce."

He says conservative estimates place the work-at-home rate in the Fredericksburg area at about 27,000 people, and says that number "will only increase as unemployment creeps up and people choose to start their own companies."

And when they realize they need motivation to take a shower.

Contact information for Paul Delagrange: pauld@ arbotek.com; 540/548-4979 (office).

Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163
Email: mikez@freelancestar.com





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