Out of Office Brings the Coworking Experience to Small Town, Massachusetts
As we’ve previously shown, coworking is on the rise in Boston and there is an abundance of spaces across the city. However, in the suburbs surrounding the city, there is a growing need for coworking spaces.
Out of Office is a new coworking space based in Hudson, MA founded by Fresh Tiled Soil CEO Richard Banfield. The goal of the space is to give those living outside of the city not only a place to work, but as a way to give those who don’t have access to one of the major coworking offices a chance to experience one.
We spoke with Banfield about the founding of the coworking company, what the space is all about, and what impact a coworking space can have the outlying towns of the Hub.
Colin Barry [CB]: Before we start talking about Out of Office, let’s talk about your career. Tell me a little more about your career in the Boston tech space.
Richard Banfield [RB]: During the last two decades, I have been working in the digital product space, either as a founder or a service provider to founders. My passion is for designing memorable experiences for emerging technologies. For the majority of that time I’ve been running Fresh Tilled Soil, a digital product design firm. I’m still CEO of that business. More recently my curiosity for what makes digital products successful lead me to start writing books on the subject. I’ve just completed my fourth book.
CB: Now onto your newest business venture. What was the “A-ha!” moment to start a coworking space?
RB: I was scratching an itch that we stumbled on when my UX firm, Fresh Tilled Soil, decided to give up the office and be a distributed team. As working from home became the new norm I became increasingly frustrated. The distractions at home added to the lack of human interaction prompted me to look for a coworking space near my home in the Boston suburbs. The “A-ha!” moment was when I searched for coworking spaces on Google Maps and there was this gaping void in the MetroWest area. All the coworking spaces were concentrated in the city but almost 5-million people live in the Boston suburbs. It didn’t add up. It occurred to me that there’s a huge opportunity to have a positive impact on working conditions by providing sophisticated coworking spaces close to where people actually live. This has the added benefit of getting more people out of the traffic and even reducing the daily carbon footprint of those commuters.
Things got even better when we started talking to the town leaders and organizations. They immediately saw this as a way to achieve their goals of having residents stay local and buy local. Every time a commuter leaves the ‘burbs and heads to the city, they take their coffee and lunch dollars with them. It also costs towns more when commuters drive instead of walk or ride to work.
CB: Out of Office is in Hudson, which is a relatively far drive from Boston. Why set up shop out there? Were there always plans to be in Hudson?
RB: Hudson is smack in the middle of the MetroWest corridor and situated on I-495, which makes it a short drive for almost 500,000 people. We’re also on the Assabet River Rail Trail, a major bike path connecting Marlborough to Hudson and Stow. The location is ideal for folks who don’t want to or can’t, drive to Boston, but what closed the deal for us was the town of Hudson itself. If you were walking down Main St you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Davis Square or Somerville. Trendy spots like Medusa Brewing, Ground Effect Brewing, Rail Trail Flatbread, the Greater Than Less Than speakeasy, and the New City Microcreamery attract the kind of patron that are also our customers. Every day I meet young entrepreneurs that moved out here because Cambridge or Boston became too expensive to own a home and raise a family.
Towns like Hudson, Stow, Acton, Sudbury, Maynard, Bolton, Berlin, and the northern part of Framingham have no commuter rail. If you live in those towns, but your office is in Boston, your best hope is to be in traffic for an hour or more each way. I did that for 15 years. It’s a nightmare. Things are changing. People work remotely more often now, we have a massive sharing economy and big corporates out here need options to right-size. Within 20 mins of Hudson, we have GE Healthcare, TJX, DCU Boston Scientific, Raytheon, Vertex Biomedical, and Intel. We’re seeing a confluence of things that could be exciting.
CB: What impact can coworking bring to the suburban areas around the Boston tech scene?
RB: Our goal is to build a network of beautifully designed coworking exurban locations that are sophisticated as the downtown spaces, but each within a 15-20 minute drive of the MetroWest commuter. The entrepreneurial and tech scenes need a center of gravity out here. With 14,000 sq ft of space, dozens of offices and meeting rooms, and tons of parking we can be that place. We’ve only been open a few days and we’ve already signed up two dozen members and several events booked so I’m guessing we’re tapping into the pent-up demand.
CB: What sets Out of Office apart from the other coworking spaces out in Hudson, if there is any?
RB: Ha! There’s nothing “out there”. It’s an underserved part of the work landscape. Apart from a few sublets, there is no coworking community of any substance in the suburbs. Certainly none with the gorgeous space and amenities we have. Out Of Office is also not interested in competing with the downtown spaces either. They have their place and it’s valuable. Our biggest competitor is the commute into the city. If you’d had enough of sitting in traffic, you’re probably our customer.
CB: What are some plans going forward for Out of Office? Any events/networking opportunities?
RB: We’re currently looking at a handful of locations to expand our footprint. Ideal towns will have to be about 40 mins to an hour commute out of Boston, have a vibrant downtown and poor access to the commuter rail. We have an official launch on Feb 1st and several tech-related events in the works. One of our member organizations is Revolution Factory, an incubator with a focus on smart cities. They will be running demos and workshops starting in January 2019. All through the lens of intelligent exurb design as a tool for an improved standard of living across all these dimensions.
CB: Any other additional comments you’d like to make?
RB: We think Out Of Office has a huge advantage in this space because we’re not just seeing as a cost-plus equation. We see this as an opportunity to work with towns and exurban communities to accelerate a more sustainable work-life balance for their residents. We’re not just making good business, we’re pushing for a fundamentally different and more humanistic structure to the live/work experience.