New office space concept promotes coworking trend in Birmingham

New office space concept promotes coworking trend in Birmingham

Office concept also option for telecommuters

Agrowing workplace trend is zeroing in on metro Birmingham, as a new office designed to bring freelancers, independent entrepreneurs and other corporate telecommuters together under one roof opens downtown.

Shift Workspace is promoting the concept of coworking in a building that will open next week at 2308 Second Ave. North. People can rent a spot in the building - either a fixed space or the right to use one of the desks there - as a low-cost alternative to working at home.

Coworking is gaining steam in cities across the country, as technology allows more people to work remotely. At the same time, they don't want to miss the camaraderie of an office or get distracted with responsibilities at home.

Drew Jones, who is helping spearhead Birmingham's Shift Workspace, said he and his partners believe coworking spaces will someday be plentiful in a variety of markets.

"We fully understand that we are somewhat outrunners and taking a risk ... the Birmingham economy doesn't have the density of freelancers that some of the other markets have," Jones said. "But the tech community is very dispersed, whether it's Chelsea or Pelham. Hopefully this will create a hub."

That's the hope of Brit Mansell, a Web designer who now runs his business, Octane Media, out of his home in Alabaster. Mansell is one of the anchor tenants at Shift Workspace and is looking forward to being around like-minded professionals.

"Web design being something of an art, it's still good to be inspired and be around people doing the same thing," he said.

Jones, who lives in Birmingham, works with a small management consulting company, Shift 101, which has operations in New York, Sydney and Austin. Jones is co-author of a book about coworking titled, "I'm Outta Here."

A related trend that's helping spur the coworking movement, Jones said, is the fact that companies are shedding real estate and turning more of their employees into telecommuters.

"For most companies, the two biggest costs are real estate and people, and companies are aggressively downsizing on the real estate side and realizing that a lot of the work in a knowledge-based economy can be done remotely," he said.

Birmingham's Shift Workspace hopes to be a haven for such corporate telecommuters in the area, he said, along with writers and others that work outside an office setting, Jones said.

In the building, fixed anchor spaces are available upstairs for $315 a month. Downstairs, mobile members can use desks on a first-come, first-served basis for $125 a month or $15 a day.

Shift 101 also is an anchor in the building. Other anchors include a software developer and another consulting firm.

The building also has classroom space, which will be used for classes in Web design and development, social networking and other resources for small businesses. Wireless Internet access also is available, and voice-over Internet soon will be installed.

A grand opening party is set for tonight from 5 to 9 p.m., and an all-day open house is planned Friday.

Michael Funk, Jones' partner in the Shift Workspace venture, said he believes Birmingham's established tech community will help grow the coworking trend in the area.