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Tomorrow’s office

Posted: December 5th, 2014 | Feature, News, North Park, Top Story | 1 Comment

By Hutton Marshall | Editor

North Park coworking space expands

What do a bitcoin wallet, a commodities trader and an app-based delivery service have in common? Not much probably, except that they work side by side each day in Union Cowork, a coworking space in the heart of North Park.

These three operations, along with 22 others, work independently in a shared environment just north of the University Avenue and 30th Street intersection. The concept of multiple businesses and individuals sharing a communal office space is known as “coworking.”

Popular among freelancers, startups and microbusinesses, the concept is often alluring to those who would otherwise work from home or in a secluded, private office. Each member of Union Cowork pays a monthly fee to use the space. Some say they’re simply more productive working in the company of others, and some “coworkers” say the connections fostered in these spaces are crucial to their business operations.

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Urban 2, the second North Park location of Union Cowork (Photo by Hutton Marshall)

Occupants of the space are diverse, and each seems to have their own relationship with their environment, although none seem to view it as a banal office space.

Darci Daneshvari launched her Internet marketing business in early 2014, and moved into Union Cowork this summer when the space opened. At the time, she worked remotely with a partner up in Los Angeles. In her brief period at Union, her operations have expanded to include two additional employees. She said the coworking environment has facilitated much of her growth.

“Sometimes I’m more productive at home, but I really just like being around people too,” Daneshvari said. “There’s a guy out there now who also works with WordPress, so sometimes I’ll get stuck on maybe Google Analytics or webmaster tools, and I’ll ask for his help. And sometimes he’ll ask me questions or we’ll bounce ideas off each other.

“In some ways it kind of reminds me of adult college,” she added.

On the other hand, Kip Thompson, who primarily trades in futures commodities, simply enjoys his environs without looking to benefit from any kind of professional network. With an office ironically situated in what used to serve as a bank vault before Union took over, the middle-aged financial trader socializes frequently with fellow coworkers, but looks for little beyond that.

“Nobody here is going to help me,” said Thompson, who generally works with East Coast and European businesses. “For a lot of the people here, they see this place as an opportunity for networking and learning and connecting. None of these people are going to help me there.

The interior of Union 1, the original location of Union Cowork in North Park (Photo by Hutton Marshall)

The interior of Union 1, the original location of Union Cowork in North Park (Photo by Hutton Marshall)

“Most don’t have any idea what I do, since it’s kind of an esoteric niche of the market,” he continued. “So no, I don’t get anything there, what I get is a nice office space, and that’s exactly what I want.”

In another corner office, Trisha Williams and Joe Unger operate Fun Smugglers, LLC, an entertainment production studio. Recent transplants from Los Angeles, their business is based around finding promising intellectual properties and turning them into marketable products, like digital streaming videos, books and video games. They moved to San Diego this summer specifically to tap into the creative community blossoming in North Park.

“Being here, being in North Park, really helps us out, since we’re surrounded by all these makers and creators everywhere,” Unger said.

Jamie Miller, a soft-spoken architect and self-described Canadian socialist, founded Union Cowork in 2012. Just a few years back, he was working independently out of a coffee shop.

“It was difficult as an architect because you have trade paper and it’s hard to contain yourself,” he said of his coffee shop days. “But I like the vibe of being around other people, so that was the difficult part about working from home.”

After briefly renting a desk in an architectural firm, his eyes fell on the “for rent” sign in front of a University Avenue office space. Without any other tenants to join him, he leased the space and became a lone business in the new coworking space big enough for more than 30 people. The space became Union 1, and his solitude was short lived.

It wasn’t long before the space began filling up, and after just over a year, it was time to expand. Union 2 opened this summer just a few blocks over, and it already has a waiting list for office space.

“It was a lot of fun and we were able to pay the rent, so to me that was enough for it to make sense to do something a little bit bigger,” Miller said of Union’s quick expansion.

The smaller of the two, Union 1 is comprised mostly of cubicles filling an open, lofted space. Conversely, about half of Union 2 is made up of individual office spaces of varying sizes. The rest is divided between a large communal area for individual coworkers, a kitchen and a meeting room, which is also rented out by outside businesses.

Miller calls Union a neighborhood-based coworking space. A disciple of green urban planning, Miller sees walking and biking to work and ingraining oneself in the community as the core principals of Union.

And while Miller’s origins lie in North Park, his ambitions for Union Cowork reach far beyond the mid-city neighborhood. Three locations are planned for next year, counting an expansion to the second floor of Union 2’s building. Downtown and Encinitas are also on Miller’s radar for 2015. His eventual goal is 30 locations throughout California. Considering the bum rush of coworking applicants for Union 2, his audacious goals don’t seem so crazy.

Opening a range of locations tie into Miller’s greater vision for Union Cowork, which he hopes will do more than provide people with a place to work. He wants to provide an infrastructure of coworking spaces throughout the state. He also hopes to build the rich connections to the community wherever Union opens up.

“The missing link for me was not just an office space, but a network of people,” Miller said. “So [with] the monthly subscription-based membership, you not only have a place to work, but you have this network of people that can help bring you more business.”

While today, a Union membership only gets you access to two locations practically on top of one another, Miller soon hopes Union members will eventually be able to access a variety of locations depending on where in the state they happen to find themselves.

“It’s community based, it’s based in this person-to-person interaction,” he said.

He’s beginning to foster some of this connectivity at Union 2 on a smaller scale. Soon, he’ll bring together three businesses, bit coin wallet AirBit, delivery app Postmates and Buddytruck, a truck-sharing app, to hold a roundtable discussion, a public brainstorming session. While it will center around the three businesses, he said anyone is invited to attend and learn or weigh in.

“I want it to be as all encompassing as possible,” Miller said. “I want to have architects there, I want to have urban planners, graphic designers, economics professors. I want people who can really engage in the conversation, because it’s all part of the same world, and even if it just introduces the concept to someone and provokes some kind of discussion, I think it’s important.”

—Contact Hutton Marshall at hutton@sdcnn.com.

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