Former mill at Mirak, site of many small businesses, including coworking.Former mill at Mirak, site of many small businesses, including coworking, in rear at left.

UPDATED, Nov. 24: Working in 2015 can be lonely.

The employment game has been changing for decades: Many of you no longer toil 40 years for a corporation and retire with a company pension.

By at least 2005, if not since the late 1990s, the fragmentation of the workplace led to various forms of declarations of employment independence. One is called coworking, and it's coming to Arlington.

Coworking involves performing a job in a shared space. Those on the job usually do not have the same employer. On the social side, the arrangement can include people who still work independently but who connect through shared values.

When the approach succeeds, it can be "communal," those involved locally say.

Coworking targeting two spots 

Does that mean some of the best aspects of the 1960s have come home to roost in the workplace? Will that be true in the Heights?

Town officials hope so. Selectmen voted Nov. 23 meeting to seek requests for proposals that could make 1207 Mass. Ave., formerly the site of the Disabled American Veterans, a coworking option. Read some background here >>

Further, by the first week of the new year, plans call for a former mill on Mirak property at 1167 Mass. Ave. to have 5,000 square feet open for coworking.

To find out what this might mean, listen to the voices of those involved -- and those who might be.


'We expect there to be an average of 40 to 70 people onsite daily.'
Devin Cole, Workbar


'This project will be the first dedicated, purpose-built coworking space in Arlington.'
Ted Fields, town economic development

The Mirak location brings to town Workbar, which calls itself Boston’s original coworking company, dating from 2009. The site in a historic mill building will be its fourth in greater Boston. The Nov. 24 Workbar newsletter reported the January 2016 start date. 

"We expect there to be an average of 40 to 70 people onsite daily," Devin Cole, director of business development, noted Oct. 28. "The full membership will likely be somewhere north of 100." That would include the full range of membership options. See options here >> Learn more and preregister here >>

Ted Fields, town economic-development planner, told YourArlington, "This project will be the first dedicated, purpose-built coworking space in Arlington."

He pointed out that the Data Collaborative, on the second floor of 366 Mass. Ave., subleases a private coworking area it developed two-plus years ago after expanding within its building.

Eric Segal, collaborative president, said coworking has occurred informally. "An Excel developer worked out of here for a while, and a guy who has a database system for domestic violence shelters still works out of here as well" he wrote in October. "Basically, we like having other interesting techies around, and so try to make it happen."

'Arlington is a natural location'

Bill Jacobson, CEO and founder of Workbar, said in a news release: "Arlington is a natural location for Workbar. Because so many small businesses and independent professionals are here in town, we see tons of potential for coworking. With high-tech neighbors like Glance Networks, SunBug Solar, Spy Pond Partners and Media Electric, we are in good company in a great building."

Jacobson was among the participants in a Town Hall discussion, which included coworking, aimed at jump-starting Arlington's tech potential, in June 2014

Jill Mirak, vice president of Mirak Properties and project manager for the Workbar renovation, said in the release, "We are delighted to join forces with Workbar in this 21st-century business of coworking."

Coworking amenities at Workbar Arlington will include high-speed Internet, meeting rooms and printing. Company folks take care of all administrative tasks.

Workbar Arlington says its members will enjoy a range of memberships crafted to support entrepreneurs, independent professionals and remote workers, as well a strong community enhanced by events, programming and skill sharing.

Chamber, Arlington Entrepreneurs' events

To take the issue beyond a news release, Fields, supported by business interests traditional and new -- the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington Entrepreneurs -- held the first in a series of coworking discussions, in October.

In the Lyons Hearing Room at Town Hall, 21 people gathered Oct. 21 to hear two main presenters -- Workbar's Cole and Carol A. Costello, who had been marketing and operations manager for the Brickyard Collaboration Space, in Cambridge, until it closed in 2013. Fields moderated.

The number of coworkers worldwide is unclear. Fields suggested from 800 to 1,000. Later that evening, a member of the audience allowed it could be 3,000. CK This series of articles provides some context >>

Locally, he sees it as a benefit -- to get more residents working in commercial districts, which could mean less traffic here.

Workbar's 'neighborhoods'

Cole, in his 30s and dressed in blue jeans, said Workbar's Arlington expansion follows opening of offices in Central Square and Somerville. The names of its four kinds of "neighborhoods" in each space points to the particular workstyle:

-- "The Cafe" (informal, buzzy environment that's great for folks who like a little ambient noise to get work done; approximates being in a Starbucks or Kickstand Cafe without having to worry about buying coffee, taking up space the whole day or leaving your stuff on the desk while you get a refill or take a phone call; works as an informal meeting and lunch spot for members who need a break from their desks, or need to have a quick nonconfidential meeting);

-- "The Study" (for members who feel most productive in a quiet, focused environment; members can expect others will not talk, take phone calls or engage in unnecessarily loud activities);

-- "The Commons" (features large tables and booths so that small teams can collaborate on projects; conversation friendly, not phone friendly); and

-- "The Switchboard" (phone-friendly zone members, allowing members to take calls without having to duck into a phone room). 

Work areas tend toward "open space," he said -- using an area as a commons. By comparison, the Cambridge Innovation Center, aiding start-ups since 1999 and including co-working, uses specific areas for a commons.

The company is "seeking a mix of start-ups," Cole said, as well as a range of kinds of businesses beyond start-ups.

Workbar aims for a "secret sauce," he said, a mix of diversity of views. "Who knows what will come from it?"

Remember loneliness? As an antidote, life at Workbar includes play, including breakfasts, happy hours and events. See happy faces here >> 

Asked from the audience about cost, Cole said Arlington pricing has not yet been set, but he ticked off established numbers: $30 a day, $125 for five days a month, $350 a month for all benefits 24/7. For more, click here and scroll down >>

Brickyard Collaborative experience

Costello said running Brickyard 2008 to 2013 made her "feel like an administrator in a community college." The North Cambridge space had been a hive for entrepreneurs since the early part of that decade.

Of such working space, she said, "there is a need." She offered a higher estimate of the number of coworkers worldwide than Fields had -- at 2,000 to 3,000.


Coworking is 'becoming a lifestyle.'
Carol Costello, formerly of Brickyard

She said coworking is "becoming a lifestyle." It is far from former work life she knew, in sales and marketing for a wireless company. After leaving "work in a cubicle mill," she said that a year of working at home left her "bored ... indifferent."

For her, life began anew at Brickyard, managing a space that welcomed the "messy worker," one that found power in bringing together a wide span of ages.

Before landlord issues led to its closing, Brickyard was "never wanting for tenants," she said, calling the place "communal."

She recently began a conversation about collaboration with Workbar.

The Town Hall audience has its say

During the Oct. 21 Town Hall event, many in the audience piped up, on their own or prompted by Fields. Comments reflected perspectives large and small.


'incredible worldwide change in the way people work.'
Tim Locke, Regus Group

Tim Locke, whose wife, Beth, is executive director pf the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, is director of business development for Regus Group. The international company wants to include coworking among its aims.

The company seeks office space that is 10,000 to 12,000 square feet.

There is "incredible worldwide change in the way people work," he said.

Beth Locke, a small-business owner, said she wanted to be able to explain coworking to chamber members.

Margy Rydzinski of Arlington, who founded Arlington Entrepreneurs in 2008, as a local resource for small business, noted how much what the Mirak space offers is needed in town. In the past, she has made do by holding meets at Kickstand Cafe or the Arlington Center for the Arts.

One questioner wondered about security in coworking space. Cole said Workbar uses key-card system, and in 2 1/2 years, has had one laptop stolen (us if a security camera helped nab the culprit).

Alan Jones, an IT consultant in town for 15 years as well as a member of Finance Committee, was there. He is among those who helped develop Arlington's visual budget

To a follow-up question after the meeting, he wrote: "I really love that Arlington's going to have a coworking space available, especially since I can practically hit it with a snowball from my house. We're currently seeking funding to expand Visual Government, and if we get that, then I'm pretty sure we'd become tenants.

"But at the very least, I'd expect it to be there a lot for local meetups and such with a technology focus."

Rachael Stark, a librarian who began the group Walking in Arlington, is seeking space that is quiet.

Mary Hilt, an artist, wanted to know whether Workbar is dog-friendly (it draws the line against paws).

Other participants reflected the variety of those seeking space: an IT consultant to start-ups, a photographer seeking a studio that is not in her home, one networking for job seekers, a management consultant, someone seeking a conference room once or twice monthly, an occupational therapist and clinician.

Observing was Laura Wiener, who is the town's acting planning director.

OTHER VOICES, OTHER VACANT ROOMS

Willing to look at coworking sites.
Eric Love, LARP

When YourArlington reviewed all known closed business sites in August 2014, the story titled "Vacant -- but waiting to be occupied with your ideas" listed many properties that remain open today.

At least two of those sites, on Lowell Street and beside Arlington High School, drew the interest in the past year of Eric Love. He runs LARP, an adventure program at Arlington Center for the Arts that he says has 100 young participants and is growing.

Plans for the large space where the North Bennett School was previously situated (it's now in Boston's North End) did not come to fruition, Love said. Nor did talks with the owners of the former site of Arlington Lithograph on Schouler Court. Prominent signs seeking tenants remain at both locations.

With school officials discussing possibly taking back the former Gibbs Jr. High, Love is clearly wondering about his program's home.

He said he is willing to take a look at coworking spaces, including the former DAV at 1207 Mass. Ave. and the Mirak/Workbar collaboration.

Perhaps Arlington is laying a path to catch up to tech generators in nearby Somerville.

There you find Artisan's Asylum, which Arlington media artist Peter Berdovsky used to create a First Night light show in 2014.

You also find Greentown Labs, whose CEO is Emily Reichert of Arlington. The "green" incubator occupies 33,000 square feet of the former Ames Envelope, a company whose CEO had been Bill Shea, the longtime Arlington luminary who died in 2012. Bill Shea, the longtime Arlington luminary who died in 2012 The Globe reported Oct. 29 a major expansion there

Arlington's borders appear to be expanding through coworking.

ABOUT WORKBAR, MIRAK

Workbar is a network of shared, coworking office spaces for all business types, fostering a community of 800 members from more than 500 companies. It has nine regional network spaces throughout greater Boston, including the UMass Lowell iHub, Running Start in Worcester, Work Station in Cohasset, the Framingham State University Entrepreneur Innovation Center, Fields Corner Business Lab in Dorchester and Groundwork! in New Bedford, as well as industry-specific Centers of Excellence in Adtech, with Mullen Lowe, fintech with DCU and Health Innovation, with IHI.

Incorporated in 1932 by John Mirak, an immigrant from Armenia, and now in its third generation, Mirak Properties has grown into a greater Boston real estate enterprise with commercial, industrial, office and residential developments in Arlington, Boston, Winthrop, Malden and Everett. The company is headed by Bob Mirak and his daughters, Jill and Jennifer Mirak, and has ties with Mirak Chevrolet and Mirak Hyundai. The Mirak family has a philanthropic arm, the John Mirak Foundation, which supports local charities as well as those in Armenia.

YourArlington has reported about Mirak's history >>

WHAT'S NEXT IN SERIES?

Fields said Nov. 4 that he is discussing with the cosponsors, the chamber and Arlington Entrepreneurs, when to schedule the follow-up meeting, buit no specifics have yet been worked out.


RELATED LINKS

Aug. 22, 2014: Arlington looks into adapting to new kinds of workspaces
Town master plan:coworking
Town economic development
MBO Partners' State of Independence in America 2015

This report was published Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, and updated Nov. 24.