For Freelancers, Landing A Workspace Gets Harder

Workers share office space at Grind, a co-working company in New York City. Those who want to use Grind's facilities are vetted through a competitive application process.


STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: Now, the recession caused a spike in the percentage of freelance or independent workers. You've lost the boss; you've lost the security; you've still got the work. Well, over 30 percent of Americans currently work on our own. That has given rise to co-working - locations where you can rent a cubicle for a day or by the month. But now there's a twist - some of these places may not let you in the door.

Kaomi Goetz reports on what's called curated co-working.

KAOMI GOETZ, BYLINE: I'm a freelance worker - meaning, I don't work for any particular company, and I get to choose when and where I work. There are a lot of us out here. In fact, one study projects the number of non-traditional office workers will reach 1.3 billion globally by 2015. But finding a great place to work isn't easy. Recently, I heard about a new space in Manhattan called Grind. But I had to apply.

BENJAMIN DYETT: If you write two words and two sentences, you're probably not going to hear from me. But if you write two pages about why you want to be part of Grind, I will bring you in.

GOETZ: That's Benjamin Dyett, one of the co-founders of Grind and the chief gatekeeper. He says he and his partners make no bones about it. They are selective for several reasons.

DYETT: None of which are to be elitist and exclusive, but it is to create a strong, cohesive community.

GOETZ: Meaning, besides a well-lit office space with dependable Wi-Fi, Grind is offering a certain kind of collaborative workspace - where a web designer can get legal advice, or an event planner can team up with a food writer. Dyett's basically curating the mix of people to make sure this happens. Think fewer male coders with their headphones on; more women in faux fur vests doing PR work on their laptops.

DYETT: This is our coffee station. One of our strategic partners is Intelligentsia Coffee.


GOETZ: It's not hard to see the appeal. There's the high-end furniture. Natural light streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows on Park Avenue. For an extra fee, you can reserve glass-walled conference rooms with LED screens. But the real draw for Grindists is the plugged-in networking that introduces its members to each other. All of this costs $35 a day, or $500 a month – not cheap compared to usual co-working rates. Still, 100 people are on the waiting list.

Co-working pioneer Sanford Dickert says the Grind model is a change.

SANFORD DICKERT: Co-working, in the beginning, was basically trying to find a way to bring in any revenue.

GOETZ: Purists say co-working was - and still is - about self-selection and pooling resources. Occasionally, someone disruptive turns up. Dickert says Grind is trying to eliminate that possibility head on.

DICKERT: Is that wrong? The wrongness or the rightness will be determined by the marketplace. If they're not able to attract enough people into this space, it will close.

GOETZ: Campbell McKellar says that's unlikely. She runs Loosecubes, an online listings agent for more than 1,800 co-working sites worldwide. Many of them are just offices with empty desks to fill. She says the application and vetting process is the future.

CAMPBELL MCKELLAR: It's very similar to dating.


MCKELLAR: You know, it's like you could look at, there could be 10 men in Brooklyn that have brown hair that are in my age range, but I really would only like one - for reasons that are very hard to describe. It's about chemistry.

GOETZ: In fact, Loosecubes is working on software to require people to provide photos, and Facebook and Linkedin profiles. A two-way rating system isn't far behind.

For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz in New York City.