Co-operative office space catching on in Belfast

Jennifer Hill of Memorable Events works Friday afternoon in her nook at The Office, a cooperative work space in Belfast.
Jennifer Hill of Memorable Events works Friday afternoon in her nook at The Office, a cooperative work space in Belfast. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 31, 2012, at 5:52 p.m.
Graphic designer Lee Parent (left), writer Robin McCarthy and event planner Jennifer Hill decided to accept another member Friday morning during the monthly meeting for The Office cooperative workplace in downtown Belfast.
Graphic designer Lee Parent (left), writer Robin McCarthy and event planner Jennifer Hill decided to accept another member Friday morning during the monthly meeting for The Office cooperative workplace in downtown Belfast. Buy Photo

BELFAST, Maine — The people toiling away in an office overlooking Belfast Harbor are great colleagues — but they technically don’t work with each other.

Instead, they are part of The Office, a cooperative workspace where each rents a nook or a private space by the month and then uses it to write, design, plan events or do whatever else their work entails.

But they also take turns cleaning up, taking out the trash and more.

“We all do our own thing, but we all work together,” said Meg Reilly, who used her share of the space this summer as the office for the Friendship Sloop Amity and will continue to use it for her bookkeeping business.

“It does feel very much like a collaboration,” said Jennifer Hill of Memorable Events, the de facto caretaker for the office space. “Everybody pitches in. It’s more than just a rental.”

Reilly and Hill were among the participants Friday in the co-op’s monthly office meeting in the shared conference room.

Hill said that The Office has existed for a little more than a year now. The idea was born when the first tenants realized that the bright, roomy office space was too expensive for any of them to rent individually, but that they might make a go of it by sharing costs. The idea of co-working or cooperative offices has caught on over the last few years in cities from San Francisco to Toronto to New York but is just making its way into more rural regions, including Maine.

Landlords Jerry Savitz and Mike Lewis have been very supportive of the idea, Hill and other tenants said.

“They’ve been very good about letting us stay here,” said Heather Selin, a consultant working on international tobacco control policies. “In a way, the landlord is part of the cooperation.”

Rent of $150 a month for the nooks and $300 a month for private offices include heat, electricity, Wi-Fi and the use of the conference room. It’s a price affordable enough that people who might otherwise work at home are able to have a collegial place to go and have their own office space.

“It’s a way to separate work and home,” Selin said. “This is an affordable space with good colleagues. You’ve got the companionship of other people working around you.”

That can be a blessing.

“Any home consultant will tell you that it can be isolating,” she said of working alone at home.

Graphic designers Lee Parent and her sister, Joanne Parent, are new members of the cooperative. Lee Parent said that while she worked at home for years and years, a problematic Internet connection there means she’s happy to be somewhere it is more reliable.

It’s also nice to have a little distance between work and home, with its distractions of chores, children and partners, she and other tenants said.

“I do like working at home, but I’ve got to say, it helps to have a place to go to. It really raises the level of other people’s perceptions of your business,” Parent said.

Another perk of a cooperative work environment is that the tenants can take advantage of economies of scale that might not otherwise be available to a solo worker, like purchasing paper in bulk. In the future, the co-op members said they might like to purchase a printer and copier to be shared.

Right now, tenants bring in her their own laptop computer or other equipment that they need and keep it in their own space. The nooks are not separated by walls or cubicles, but by colorful screens that each person puts up.

“I would love to see this space grow,” Reilly said.

For information about The Office, please contact Jennifer Hill at 930-5700 or rooted@fairpoint.net.

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