Tucked upstairs above the Sebastiani Theatre is office space with cubicles that can be rented by the month by local entrepreneurs and freelancers.
A few doors down Broadway, almost a dozen women who provide different wedding services share a single storefront. Two blocks over on Second Street West, four CEOs, who are also best friends, oversee their staffs remotely in a shared bungalow.
Coworking is a national trend that is gathering momentum in Sonoma. The term refers broadly to any situation in which two or more people are working together in the same place but not for the same company.
The number of official coworking locations has grown globally from 1,130 spaces in 2011 to 13,800 in 2017, according to DeskMag. Sonoma County even has a new coworking association, CoworkSonoma.Org, which aims to “connect people and coworking spaces in order to empower independent workers and foster collaborative communities.”
Local real estate broker Gerrett Snedaker believes that the trend is ideally suited to Sonoma Valley’s entrepreneurial culture, as it’s a low-cost way for freelancers, consultants and small business owners to build a business without daunting capital outlays.
Snedaker turned to Liquid Space, a VRBO of sorts for office space, to rent out Better Homes & Garden’s extra workspace on the Plaza on a month-by-month basis.
His current month-to-month tenants include a hedge fund manager, an interior designer and a sales-and-marketing team for a local manufacturing company.
Over on Broadway, local commercial photographer and entrepreneur Allyson Wiley was an early adopter of coworking when she founded her “creative studio” Love and Lovely five years ago.
Wiley has 11 different wedding service providers who rent either meeting or desk space in her highly stylized 1,200-square-foot space, including a location scout and concierge service, photographers, wedding and event planners, cake designers, florists, calligraphers, graphic designers and videographers.
“The wedding and events industry is a huge business here, so a one-stop-shop for vendors to meet with clients seemed ideal,” she said. “So many vendors work from home, and were meeting clients at coffee shops or a hotel lobby. It didn’t speak to their professionalism and it didn’t elevate their brand.”
Wiley calculates that in 2016, about 350 couples met with vendors in her space for their wedding planning.
At the other end of the spectrum, the largest official coworking location in the county is a place called “Work” on Fourth Street in Petaluma. Work offers monthly workspace memberships or day passes, hourly passes, and meeting room hours. Its website describes it as “like a gym for your business – you can drop in for a random day pass but most people opt for some level of membership.”
After five years in business, the space has more than 200 active members and they just won Best Coworking Space in Best of San Francisco magazine in 2017. Work added a second Petaluma location and owner Natasha Juliana says they are currently considering a third site.
So how does coworking… work?
Coworkers typically bring their own laptops and cell phones and have access to high-speed WiFi, communal tables, whiteboards, office supplies, a kitchenette, restrooms and a printer/copier/scanner.
Membership ranges from $24 a day to $400 a month depending on the space and services shared.