Businesses are beginning to sprout up to meet the demand for new kinds of working arrangements. The pandemic showed us how obsolete the one-size-fits-all 40-hour office week has become. Knowledge workers are looking for new models, and what's emerging are hybrids of the old approaches. One such model I'm optimistic about is the "neighborhood clubhouse," an option that exists somewhere between a coffee shop and a coworking space.
Think about how three existing workplace models have fallen short for many workers. The traditional centralized office might be in an inconvenient location, or just unnecessary for the kind of work being done — which is one reason remote work has been so popular to begin with. Working from home has its limitations as well; not everyone has a spare bedroom to turn into a home office, or a worker might be sharing a home with young children or other family members that can be disruptive to a work day. Some people would rather work around other professionals rather than spend the day alone.
Until now, the alternative has been a traditional coworking model — something like a WeWork Co. or Industrious space — but those, too, have their limitations. They're often in central business districts, and if you're not looking to travel into the city to go to an office, you probably don't want to commute to a WeWork either. They're also expensive, depending on what you want the space for — maybe you only want a place to spend a few hours a day, a few times a week, at which point a membership that costs hundreds of dollars a month isn't a great deal.
Enter the neighbourhood clubhouse. I was introduced to one such establishment, Switchyards in Atlanta, when I reconnected with the founder, an old local business acquaintance, a couple weeks ago. I like to describe it as flipping the model of a coffee shop. In a coffee shop, you pay for a drink and then, if the coffee shop is laid out with comfortable seating and tables, you might end up working there for a couple of hours, effectively renting the space for free. In the clubhouse model, you pay a monthly fee — in the case of Switchyards, $50 per month — and then you get a drink for free. Switchyards currently has three locations in Atlanta, two of which are in communities full of creative workers. The idea is to plant locations in people's neighbourhoods rather than in traditional office districts.
That's an ideal concept for members who want to work outside of their house and meet with people on a semi-regular basis, but who don't want to commute a long way to a traditional office, or for whom a coworking membership might be too expensive. For the clubhouse proprietor, monthly membership fees provide predictable cash flow. And since they're selling memberships rather than reserved spots, they can sell space more than once, the way gyms do, rather than have to divide capacity among dedicated office tenants.
There's a similar concept in New York City called Daybase, founded by former WeWork executives, that's seeking to fill the gap between the office and home.
After spending a little time in the Switchyards Cabbagetown location, I believe it's the kind of business that would fit well into the redevelopment of larger suburban strip centres to accommodate more remote workers. Just as large national fast-food chains are shifting their focus to drive-through business rather than dine-in, it makes sense for hybrid workers to pay directly for the kind of workspace they want, rather than spending $5 for a coffee and hoping they'll find the kind of work environment they want at the time they want it.
What's less clear is how a neighbourhood-centric, membership-based casual work space trend might play out. If the model proves successful, will it produce a bunch of local or regional winners, as we've seen in an industry like craft beer? Or will a venture-capital-backed company raise a pile of money to build hundreds of them around the country in a land grab — sort of like what WeWork did last decade? Regardless, there's a need for a different kind of workspace model on a wider scale than we currently have, and I'm looking forward to seeing what other concepts will emerge.