It started in Buenos Aires, where Sarah Athanas spent several years working as a freelance marketing consultant. That Argentinian city has a vibrant café culture; it’s often where Sarah could be found hard at work alongside other professionals.
“It was the impetus behind Groundwork,” she said of the New Bedford coworking facility she opened in 2014 after she returned to America. “We were kind of what was considered the second wave of coworking. At that time, it was early for New Bedford and its first coworking space. We’ve definitely spent a lot of effort educating people about the concept, what it is, and why it may appeal to people.”
Two years later, Robbin Orbison would bring that same concept to Cape Cod when she opened CapeSpace in Hyannis. In recent years, the pair have formed a close relationship with one another, resulting in a reciprocal partnership between their two coworking spaces in September 2020, which has allowed their respective members to get two free day passes per month, along with a discount on room rentals, at the other facility.
“The partnership has been great,” Sarah said. “We’re starting to see more of our members moving to each other’s spaces.”
Outside of that partnership, the pair has been able to talk with one another and support each other through some of the challenges they’ve faced while operating a coworking facility. “Having the support of someone in the industry has been really great, especially over the past year,” Sarah said.
This month, they’ll be strengthening that relationship when CapeSpace and Groundwork join in a regional celebration of International Coworking Day on Monday, August 9th.
It will represent the latest way that Sarah has championed coworking since her days in Argentina inspired her to open Groundwork. Consisting of roughly 6,000 square feet, the New Bedford location is an open coworking space with three private meeting rooms that individuals and businesses can rent. Groundwork will soon be expanding with a second-floor addition featuring private offices.
Coworking attracts a diverse array of professionals
Her membership is diverse and includes a number of late-career consultants, including one who works for a vodka brand, another who owns his own solar powered consulting firm, and several who hold jobs as software and computer engineers.
“We’ve had a lot of members who have been here for many years,” she said. “Once people get settled here, they stay with us for quite some time.”
The most rewarding part of her job has been watching many of those members grow in their professions and their careers.
Initially, Sarah said, coworking was slow to take hold in New Bedford, but that has changed, especially since the pandemic. “We’ve had much faster growth than we’ve ever had before,” she said. “Coworking is now becoming more mainstream. While before it was reserved for certain types of professions, more industries are allowing their workers to have flexible work situations.”
While the pandemic had its difficulties, Sarah said, Groundwork saw just how important of a role they play in the lives of their members. “Isolation over the past year was very difficult,” she said. “This coworking space became a lifeline for our members, and it’s what kept us going during those difficult months.”
As Groundwork has emerged from the challenges of the past year, Sarah is eagerly looking forward to the future of coworking.
“I would say that the coworking spaces that have survived the pandemic are a real testament,” she said, “not only to our communities but the vital need these spaces serve in those communities.”