Seattle has the fourth-fastest-growing freelance economy in the country, which explains why there are almost as many coworking spaces opening up as luxury apartment buildings. Since I'll never be able to afford a luxury apartment, I thought maybe I can at least work at a place where the sink actually drains and the coffee is always fresh. So I checked out some coworking spaces and brought my laptop with me. I didn't tell them I was coming. I wanted to see what these places were like inside, without any PR hoopla.
Clearly, we are living in the age of the remote worker. By 2020, 40 percent of the US workforce will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors, or "solopreneurs," according to a 2010 study by Intuit. According to the 2017 Global Coworking Survey, nearly 1.2 million people worldwide will have tried coworking by the end of next year, and around 14,000 coworking spaces will be in operation. Sixty-four percent of coworkers say that shared workplaces have made them more productive and able to focus better than a conventional office setting. Because working from home in your pajamas every day sometimes just doesn't cut it.
More than just a place to get distracted by baby-animal videos on the internet, coworking spaces are now doubling as business incubators, wellness centers, makerspaces, or hacker hangouts.
I visited five of the bigger coworking spaces in Seattle. Some of the places I visited allowed dogs. One of them had free craft beer on tap. Lots of them offered classes, networking events, and happy hours. Most of them have whiteboards, conference rooms, private phone booths, printing, high speed internet, and mailboxes. Some have extra perks like dog walking, on-site massage therapists, upscale lounges, and coworking visa programs (where members can use coworking spaces in other cities).
And a lot these spaces offer free trial days. Theoretically, it might be possible to spend a week or three scamming your way into new places to work each day and not pay a thing. Not that I'm suggesting you do that! But, um, I did—and it was fun.
The One That's Designed for Women
The Riveter, 1517 12th Ave, Suite 101, 206-486-5793, theriveter.co
The Riveter, located in the former MTV Real World building on Capitol Hill, is the first coworking space in Seattle geared toward women (though men are welcome, too). There's such an emphasis on wellness that it's almost like a spa. It's a tranquil, airy place with light streaming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows and bouncing off the almost blindingly white walls.
There are chocolate cupcakes, Luna bars, fresh plums, and bananas in bowls, free for the taking. There's a yoga/movement studio, a nursing room, and a lavender-infused meditation room with guided visualizations (I found out that my power colors are green and yellow).
A woman on the far side of the room was breastfeeding her baby. Other women were sitting at long white desks, wearing business casual, and focused on their computers. People in a conference room were laughing. Everybody looked so proactive. And empowered. Needless to say, this place made me feel like I should clean up my act, big time.
Luckily, there was not one but two types of hair products in the bathroom—dry shampoo and coconut- and sea-salt-scented "hair mist." Also, lemon verbena lotion, cedar scented moisturizer, and jasmine hydrating body oil.
Finally, I got down to work, although the relaxing aftereffects of the visualization session and the soft smell of jasmine made it a little hard to concentrate. With all the self-care going on, how does anybody actually get any work done?
But seriously, I loved this place, more than any other I visited, so afterward I called Riveter cofounder Amy Nelson to ask her about it.
After a 10-year stint as a corporate litigator, she and cofounder Kim Peltola, a therapist, decided to tap into the need for shared workplaces in the growing gig economy and the need for women to find professional resources and a community. Soon enough they raised more than a million dollars in seed money. They are now opening another space in Fremont in September and one in Bellevue next summer.
The idea of the "boutique" coworking space, one that caters to a certain set of professionals, isn't something new. There are shared workplaces for game developers, veterans, education professionals, and even pot growers. And there's an emerging sector of coworking spaces for women, too—though many of them are private clubs for women only. Which is fine, Nelson says, but not part of the Riveter's underlying philosophy.
"I think it's incredibly important to welcome everybody here, if we want to change the dynamic for women in the workforce," says Nelson. "You have to have everybody on board."
Still, Nelson says when she went to coworking spaces around Seattle, generally she would see "one type of member—a guy in a hoodie just coding away."
She would go to the networking events and classes offered by the coworking spaces on pitching her business, "and I was often the only woman there. That was really surprising to me because I would read all the statistics that women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men. And I kept thinking, 'Well, where are they? If this is true, where are these women?' And what I came to realize was that there was no kind of platform or network or community for women entrepreneurs."
Riveter's membership is 85 percent female identifying and 15 percent male. Its 270 members are mostly business owners, freelancers, and remote workers—HR recruiters, real estate agents, lawyers, photographers, and women starting apps. There are a few anchor tenants as well, including Reboot, a career accelerator for women returning to the workforce after having kids; Armoire, a high-end clothing rental subscription service; and Town Square, a company that provides a network resource center for small businesses.
"Economics is an enormous pathway to power in this country. It's what we value, right? It's the glory of all. I don't necessarily agree, but economic empowerment is incredibly important to equality," Nelson says. And every detail of the space at the Riveter, from the large impressionist paintings of women to the maternity room, "is designed to fuel that empowerment."
As a corporate litigator, Nelson says, she worked in spaces primarily built by and for men. "To the point where the thermostats in offices are set to a male metabolic rate! It sounds crazy," Nelson says, "but it's true!"
She continues: "When you look at what women want in a workplace, it's really different. They don't want to go to a place and shut a door in an office—they want to have more interaction, more open spaces, more events."
It's nice to feel nurtured, I thought as I headed to the bathroom one more time to hit some of that sweet sea-salt hair mist. Once there, I made the unlucky discovery that unprepared women who don't know their own cycles make every month.
Fuck, I thought, knowing it would be crotch-paper for me. (That's what I call toilet paper when I'm on my period.) Then I looked up and beheld a jar full of tampons, right across from me on a shelf. Exactly when I needed it. Now that's empowering.
Coffee quality: Pretty strong, but the urge to drink tea is stronger.
Playlist: Soft and relaxing barely there Muzak.
Pricing: Floating Desk: $180 for six days a month; Second Shift: $250 a month for unlimited "after-hours" use; $375 a month for full membership.
24/7 access: After-hours available for Second Shift and 24/7 available for full members.
Free trial day: Yes.
The One That's Like a Hostel
WeWork Westlake, 1601 Fifth Ave, 206-923-8280, wework.com
From the ping-pong and air-hockey tables, to the free leftover Thai food out in the kitchen (which was delicious), to some dude bros' loud convo about last night's drunken exploits, WeWork Westlake has the vibe of a chill, transitory, yet upscale hostel. There's even a tap for free beer, which didn't help with my productivity but did help me be able to tolerate the people more.
WeWork is an international coworking empire—one perk of membership is that globe-trotting WeWork entrepreneurs can pop in to any of WeWork's 160 worldwide locations to dash off a quick e-mail about their new app idea. Given its global reach, you could say WeWork is like the McDonald's of coworking spaces. The Westlake location alone accounts for an astounding 900 members—and has three floors with stunning citywide views, open work spaces, private booths and conference rooms, and a labyrinth-like maze of glass-walled offices for more permanent members. And there are four other locations in Seattle and Bellevue.
Coffee quality: Cold brew on tap!
Playlist: The Police, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Shakira.
Pricing: $300 a month for a Hot Desk, $450 to $500 for a Dedicated Desk, and $625 for a one-person private office.
24/7 access: Yes.
Free trial day: Yes.
The One That's Like a Living Room
Office Nomads, 1617 Boylston Ave, 206-323-6500, officenomads.com
Office Nomads—with its lived-in couches nestled in corners and bookshelves with outdated coding manuals—is a comfy, homey place to settle down and work. One of the oldest coworking spaces in Seattle, Office Nomads is home to a small, diverse community of coworkers that includes an epidemiologist and an ornithologist, writers, developers, lawyers, and nonprofit admins. That's according to Amanda Lillet, a volunteer and "community cultivator" there who runs Seattle Learning Academy, an English as a second language education company, from the space.
While I wouldn't bring an ad exec for a high-profile meeting here, I did get a lot done during the "work sprint"—a daily practice where you and a fellow nomad set a timer and work for exactly 25 minutes on something you've been putting off, with no distractions.
Coffee quality: Not-so-fresh drip.
Pricing: $30 for one day a month, $50 for students for five days a month, $100–$240 for part-time (5–15 days a month), $395 a month for individuals, $360–$720 a month for teams.
24/7 access: Yes.
Free trial day: Yes.
The One That's Like a Hipster Haven
Makers, 92 Lenora St, 206-457-3130, themakersspace.com
At Makers, the retro aesthetic is brought to a fever pitch: old radios and gramophones, tools in frames, vintage Singer sewing machines, doors that became tables. Occasional clipboards affixed to the distressed brick walls feature inspirational quotes: "If not now, then when?" "Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is!" I kind of dug it, which made me question my existence a little—am I just a sucker for a few well-placed Edison light bulbs and a kitchen with a sparkling water maker?
It's all meant to appeal to "creators and doers"—and houses an eclectic variety of small companies like the Vinyl Resurgence Project and a matchmaking company, in addition to whatever its monthly members are up to. Tucked away on a couch all day, I got a lot done. I also got to overhear a matchmaking conversation where a (probably male) client was being advised to not necessarily marry someone because of physical attraction alone, since that fades over time. Schoolin' dudes on the obvi—I could get paid for that.
Coffee quality: The cafe pop-up option is superb but not free. Otherwise their house drip is just okay and gets the job done.
Playlist: Young Summer, the Fray, John Legend, and almost anything else from Grey's Anatomy the show or soundtrack.
Pricing: $25 for one day a month, $100 for a floating desk five days a month, $250 for a floating desk for one month, $350 for a dedicated desk for one month.
24/7 access: No.
Free trial day: Yes.
The One That's Like a Social Justice League
Impact Hub, 220 Second Ave S, 206-430-6007, impacthubseattle.com
Impact Hub prides itself on being a "launch pad for purpose-driven ventures that create more value than they capture." Over the years, the coworking space has become a destination for do-gooders of every stripe: Their Seattle location, housed in a historic building in Pioneer Square (part of which used to be brothel), includes "social venture partner" organizations like New Tech Northwest, green builders Seattle 2030 District, and the Latino Community Fund of Washington.
There's a big emphasis on community here, and like many nonprofits, don't expect the sink to be 100 percent dish-free all the time. It wasn't when I visited. But come to network, both locally or to have the chance to collaborate with the wider Impact Hub community in other locations. I wasn't able to change the world in the eight hours I was there, but I did feel pretty productive.
Coffee quality: Fair trade and decent. There's also a cafe.
Playlist: No music, justice needs to happen. It's actually pretty refreshing.
Pricing: $35 for two days a month, $105 for five days a month, $225 for 12 days a month, $345 full time, $425 fixed desk, $195 after-hours. Also private office rates.
24/7 access: For full time, fixed desk, and private office, with some restrictions.
Free trial day: Yes.
The Ones I Didn't Get a Chance to Visit
LGBTQ-friendly work space aimed at consultants and executives: atlasworkbase.com.
The Cloud Room
Collaborative work space with 24-hour access to its amenities, one of which includes a bar: cloudroomseattle.com.
A space catering to entrepreneurs and creatives in Ballard: ballardlabs.com.
Upscale work lounge, cafe, and bar: coterieworklounge.com.
Vybe Hub: Coworking Eastlake
Mailbox shop and coworking space: vybehub.com.
Tech-focused work space and incubation space offering classes for both individuals and start-ups in Pioneer Square: galvanize.com/seattle.
Hing Hay Coworks
A nonprofit collaborative work space and community development hub in the International District: hhcoworks.org.
My Branch Office
Small coworking space above Broadway Market on Capitol Hill: mybranchoffice.net/the-office.
A coworking space for creative freelancers: collectivechemistry.com.
A Tacoma coworking space providing art offices, desks, resources, and networking opportunities: surgetacoma.com.
Tech acceleration space in Lake Union providing coworking space and virtual offices: thinkspace.com.
Almost a million square feet of office space at this tech-focused coworking space in Bellevue: extraslice.com.
This article has been updated since its original publication.