Tri-City organization lets workers share an office, but no boss

By Loretto J. Hulse, Herald food writerOctober 20, 2012 

Working from home sounds ideal until you try it. Especially when you have three young children.

"They don't understand daddy's working. They just know they want to be picked up," said Douglas Waltman II of Richland.

A year and a half ago, he and three other website designers/programers founded their own company, Digital Augment.

"We're too small to afford an office and all our work is done on computers so we found ourselves working from home, in coffee shops, at the library, wherever we could set up a laptop," he said.

There they met other nomadic workers who craved an office but not a boss. They began talking about a concept called co-working, people working together in one space, each with their own business, sharing the rent.

Co-working but not co-workers. A concept that is a powerful tool.

"It's been such an amazing success in other places that it was a no brainer for us to say, let's do this," said Shenoa Lawrence of Richland.

She's been a website designer for 10 years, working from home.

"I still have a home office, but when you telecommute it's a struggle to find a way to connect with the business community," she said. "I find when I'm around motivated, energetic people my own work improves. That's one thing we have in common, a great interest in sharing and learning."

They began with a core group of six and they used donated space at the Richland Library. When their numbers grew to 24 they formed a not-for-profit co-working group -- Room to Think -- and found an office to rent at 710 George Washington Way in Richland.

They're a diverse group with a variety of talents. Some are web designers, others are in finance, one's a lawyer, another is an educator.

"We have some people who come in just once a month, others five, six, seven days a week. We have members from Walla Walla, Yakima, even a man who works for an internet security firm in Michigan who travels a lot. So when he comes through here, Room to Think offers him a base," said Lawrence.

Becca Lingley of Richland, an online educator, said, "When you work alone at home, it's just a matter of time before you want to have a conversation with something, someone, other than your computer."

In addition to sharing office space and having other creative people around to bounce ideas off, the group shares experiences through interactive workshops, presentations and other events. Most are free or have a nominal charge.

Cost to share the 1,800-square-foot office -- which includes a conference room, dinette area and lounge -- varies depending on how many days you use the space. A basic membership is $30 per month and includes access to all the educational events and use of the office one day a month.

A partial membership for $175 includes use of the office three days a week. Unlimited use costs $250 a month.

Desks, chairs and other furniture have been either donated or bought inexpensively by members.

"We guarantee the office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. But anytime a key-carrying member is here, the office is open. And there's enough of us with keys, who work crazy hours, that there's always a good chance you'll find it open," Waltman said.

"It's amazing what you can do once you're out of your pjs and in a real office," he said. "We've found we attract people who are doing what they love. They've either made it, are trying to make it or thinking about it."

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