Written by Justine Dhollande
What does it takes to start a coworking space in a destination location? Meet Jamie and David Orr, and their partners Cristi and Bernard Creegan, founders of Cowork Tahoe. This will be the sixth year that Cowork Tahoe has been open in South Lake Tahoe, CA giving remote workers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to live amongst the mountain scenery and contribute to the local community.
Why did you choose South Lake Tahoe to start your new coworking business?
A long time ago, we (David & Jamie) asked ourselves what our ideal place to live would be. We were living in Mountain View, CA at the time. We were constantly fighting traffic too and from work. We both have a passion for outdoor recreation, but it was so difficult to get to a point where we could enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis. After the economic collapse in 2008, we bought a second home and started spending more time in South Lake Tahoe. That led to falling in love with the area, so in the Fall of 2013, we decided to move here full time.
Upon our arrival, we began networking and talking to people from the community about things they thought were missing in the area. Coworking and business incubation was a topic that continually came up when speaking with the Tahoe Chamber, the City Manager, and other local leaders in the business community. It became clear there was a need, and having worked from a coworking space previously, we were very excited about the opportunity of running a large coworking space in South Lake Tahoe. Bernard & Cristi Creegan believed in that vision as well and partnered with us to purchase and completely renovate one of the most iconic buildings in town, the home of the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
What was the biggest challenge you ran into during your first year of opening Cowork Tahoe?
Awareness is the biggest challenge that faces any new business. If your customers don’t know about you, or can’t find you when they search for your services, you’re not getting their business. This can be solved with a great marketing plan. The challenge with coworking is nobody wants to work in an empty space. People’s number one reason for joining a coworking space is the community. Obviously a new space is missing this critical component.
Several years ago, coworking was even less common than it is today. Very few people knew what it was, so an additional challenge was educating the community on coworking in general, including its benefits to both those that are members of a space as well as benefits to the community as a whole.
To overcome this, we made sure that we were everywhere – Chamber of Commerce meetings, young professional networking events, service club meetings, as well as hosting events in our space to get people through our doors.
What is the current trend with coworking in mountain resort towns in your opinion?
Coworking in smaller communities, including mountain towns, is quickly growing as more people are able to take advantage of remote work options.
In Tahoe, for example, we are seeing an influx of new residents that are leaving major metro areas like San Francisco/Silicon Valley to enjoy a better quality of life in the mountains for themselves and their families. Rather than view Tahoe as just a vacation destination, they’re taking advantage of their ability to work remote in order to live here full-time. It’s a way to trade in hours of commute traffic for hours spent enjoying the outdoors even during the middle of the work week!
Mountain communities are typically tight-knit, and coworking spaces fit in very well with that mindset. They are the modern day community center and can be more than just where people work. A coworking space in a small town is often the first place someone new to town meets other people, so a vibrant space can contribute to them getting settled and integrated into the community.
Additionally, coworking spaces in mountain towns can help to diversify the economy in an otherwise tourist-dependent community. Tourist communities suffer from the volatility of weather, but having a population of workers that can work remotely means more stability for the town overall. It builds resilience year-round.
How is COVID-19 affecting your coworking space?
Like so many other coworking space providers, Cowork Tahoe has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. We were able to maintain access to the building for our member companies that were providing essential services, such as Eagle Protect, who worked diligently to provide PPE to where it was most needed. However, we were largely shut down beyond that for several months. Our reopening plan included many modifications to the space and our operations to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus. We drastically reduced open desk space density and relocated many desks to auxiliary spaces. Face coverings are required in all common ares and in any meeting rooms during client meetings if a minimum of 6-feet of space cannot be maintained.
We have also taken actions such as spreading out kitchen amenities to eliminate crowding at the coffee pot, placed additional seating outdoors, implemented time gaps between meetings to allow for cleaning and air circulation, and have cleaning products and sanitizer available throughout the building for members to use. We have been communicating all of these changes to our community through member announcements, emails, and social media, as well as to potential members with a modified approach to tours that includes a walk through of our new health and safety protocols. We remain committed to providing a wonderful work environment for our community, even if that looks a little different right now.
From facing the challenges of opening a new business in Lake Tahoe, to managing COVID-19, these owners know how to roll with the punches and adapt for success. Next time you are in Lake Tahoe, stop by Cowork Tahoe to network and connect…but don’t forget your mask!
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