MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Laptops, cell phones and Wi-Fi give people the freedom to work just about anywhere. But being out of the office has some drawbacks, and now people are looking for something in between. Reporter Kaomi Goetz has more.
KAOMI GOETZ: Kevin Prentiss started his Internet-based business from his apartment in New York City. For two years, he says it was 14-hour days in solitude - ironic, considering he runs a social networking site.
Mr. KEVIN PRENTISS (Internet Business Owner): I dont know that I was talking to myself. I think that, probably, I was talking to myself. Yeah.
GOETZ: Then one day he heard about New Work City. Its a rented office space in Manhattan where workers like Prentiss can drop in, hook up their laptops and work away with other people similarly mobile, while making face-to-face connections.
GOETZ: Membership at New Work City is kind of like going to a gym. The plans range from $150 a month for two visits per week, on up to getting your own key. Tony Bacigalupo is New Work City's self-styled mayor.
Mr. TONY BACIGALUPO (New Work City): OK. So were at the front door of New Work City. We just walked in. And the first thing you see when you walk in is a calendar of things that are going on at New Work City.
GOETZ: It looks like any other typical start-up office environment: There are two conference rooms, a main room with tables pushed together and a kitchen. Members pitch in for the first aid kit and communal office supplies shelf. There isn't a janitor. Everyone cleans up. There are snacks, soda and beer, too.
Mr. BACIGALUPO: It's real simple. If you take something, then just drop a dollar or two into the jar. And it works pretty well, as you can see.
GOETZ: New Work City is part of a trend that started a handful of years ago on the West Coast. Newly mobile tech workers with laptops liked their freedom, but still missed the human interaction they got from going to an office. So they formed meet-up groups - casual, once-a-week deals at different locations, sometimes even in people's living rooms. Now, Bacigalupo says more and more people are working independently today - either by choice, a layoff or both.
Mr. BACIGALUPO: So, the same way that work shifted in the 20th from blue collar to white collar, I think we'll be seeing in this century that we're going to be moving away from the idea of a centralized nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday drive-to-work workplace, and we're going to be moving much more in this direction of people working where they want, when they want.
GOETZ: California-based Emergent Research says co-working spaces continued to grow during the recession. Public libraries are also getting in on the trend by offering conferencing and other business services.
And co-working is not just happening in major cities. Office furniture giant Steelcase�is subsidizing a�co-working cottage�in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. Members there can tap away on their laptops next to a cozy fireplace for 100 bucks a month. Organizers say its part community resource, part social experiment.
Kevin Prentiss says he likes the support he gets from other members at New Work City. He's even hired a few people that he's met there. And just like an office environment, there are sometimes silly contests, which he likes.
Mr. PRENTISS: What it doesn't have, though, because of the lack of a collective org chart, is any sort of jockeying or power-play politics. So I definitely think it's much of the good and none of the bad. No ones competing here.
GOETZ: New Work City is just breaking even, and that's OK with its founders. They say for-profit spaces tend to operate like impersonal office suites and miss what co-working's about: community.
For NPR News, Im Kaomi Goetz in New York.
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