Great Barrington — Some days I love the flexibility working from home offers, namely the quiet and interruption-free time I enjoy during school hours; other days I get sucked into the laundry pile. Herein lies the reality: Some days are super productive; other days, I get distracted and feel isolated. Enter Kendra Smallwood and Emma Blair, co-founders of Coworking GB, downtown’s forthcoming co-working space at 406 Main St. The concept, one that loosely springs from the conundrum outlined above, aims to provide a work environment that offers exclusive access to designated shared work rooms while working to create an affordable community and member-driven space.
“There is a need,” said Smallwood, “to be in the world and of the world,” especially for those who do not work conventional 9-to-5 office jobs. Smallwood and Blair, both of whom are balancing the demands of young children while cultivating careers, have been looking to harness what they call a groundswell of creative energy among their peers; this, coupled with burgeoning interest in coworking, is part of the reason the two meshed. The pair will manage the coworking space, which is owned by a private investor who is choosing to remain behind the scenes. Think of them as two parts of a whole: on the ground to support this venture as it blossoms to fill a much-needed niche in Great Barrington.
“It felt very clear to us what fit,” Blair added during a recent tour of the space. Coworking is a flexible term in itself; here, it hinges upon creating community for those who might be isolated in their particular lines of work (think freelance workers, entrepreneurs, business owners — the list goes on and on). For this set, the options are often limited to home, office or a local coffee shop. The coworking model blends the benefits of all three: affordability; like-minded working folks; energy of a shared work space; and dedication to what happens there despite individual projects.
“Energy, momentum to tap into and feed off of, and shared inspiration” are what draw Blair to the concept. And Smallwood knows that, for her, regular interaction while working on independent projects can be “not only meaningful, but also deeply, deeply valuable.” Now that extensive renovations are complete, Smallwood and Blair are in the initial phase of gauging interest from the community. “We have a vision, but we’re curious to see what others’ visions are,” added Blair. Membership is $300 per month, and Coworking GB is asking for a three-month commitment to start (it will be monthly after that); they are also looking for a certain number of commitments before opening — they are aiming for 10 — in mid-March. “We’re really trying to curate a unique and specific group,” said Blair. “The more interest we get ahead of time, the more tailored to individuals it can be,” she added, noting that the model is unique — not industrial — and one that will foster an ongoing conversation about what it means to work together independently.
The physical space is worth mentioning. The classical building has been renovated for office use. An entrance at the rear of the building (located on the corner of South and Main streets) adjacent to the ample private parking lot, brings visitors to a short flight of stairs. At the top, a communal space consists of a large kitchen, dining area and enclosed porch. There is one full bath complete with shower, and two half baths that are shared with two nonprofits that rent office space on the same level. Two more communal workspaces at the front of the building are flooded with light through south-facing windows. In addition, there will be at least one smaller room available, to start, by advance reservation for private meetings, conference calls or the like. “This is not space to see [therapeutic] clients,” Smallwood clarified, but it will be flexible.
Coworking GB will be a dynamic space that will evolve depending on who joins. In fact, Smallwood and Blair envision fluid space that can ebb and flow to meet the need of members. The idea at present is to have mixed-use spaces — a combination of shared tables and desks balanced by independent space for quiet study — but the pair is waiting to “build out” the details based upon the needs of members. “The blessing of being at the very infant stage is [the space] can become whatever the demand is,” said Blair, “within reason.”
Smallwood, who works as a Human Design consultant, originally had the idea. Blair calls it “an example of visions aligning at the right time in the right place.” Smallwood calls it serendipitous. The owner, who resides in Manhattan but has been spending time in the Berkshires since the 1970s, deeply believes in coworking on this scale and is not trying to replicate a city vibe. In fact, fuel came from research that revealed the concept was sorely lacking in the area. The closest commensurate properties are Framework in Pittsfield, a coworking space that offers day passes as well as open desks, dedicated desks and group spaces by the month; and the Werkshires, in West Stockbridge, which offers on-demand solutions for professionals or small businesses seeking private office and conference room options by the day or by the hour.
“This is just the foundation,” said Smallwood. “[There is] a lot of potential for growth,” she added. Blair concurred. “The limits are boundless — we need to start on something solid before growth can happen. [Then] it will bloom in any way it can.” For more information on joining this space, email firstname.lastname@example.org.