After our last blog entry, one of our virtual office clients phoned in with a question of his own. He wanted to know the difference between a co-working office and a shared office. It seems that he currently had a Toronto Mail Service account with Telsec and now requires something more. The office space administrator decided that, rather than just send him the link to our previous blog about the benefits of shared office space over coworking office space, we should write another blog with direct comparisons of key features.

The virtual office client asked “for those small businesses, freelancers, independents and work-from-home businesses, what are some options for physical office space as opposed to traditional office space for lease Toronto solutions or virtual office plans?”

A shared office (sometimes referred to as flex space or hot desks) are based on a traditional office space environment. The only difference being that a Shared Office is shared and offers limited on-site storage. While it follows the traditional way of thinking for an “office” (i.e. a receptionist, phone, desk and internet connection), what it does not offer are filing cabinets or an office with a door – but those options are available with semi-private and private office solutions. When a shared office client wants to upgrade to those office space situations, he or she can do so without changing their address or phone number.

Co-working is a relatively new way to work in a shared community. The work space is generally in an open space with some private rooms for meetings or phone calls. Users generally have their own cellphone and do their own work and have no access to a receptionist to answer calls. In most cases, their entire work is done on a laptop, tablet or other mobile device – as access to PC’s is usually an add-on cost.

Lets look at some of the features that businesses look for in an upscale office space.

Professional Receptionist (who answers calls and greets your guests):

Shared Office: YES (the receptionist can alert a tenant to the arrival of guests so that the office client can take them to the free boardroom they have arranged rather than their shared working space).
Co-working: NO (as most people in co-working centres use their cell phones and greet their own clients)

Private Office with a desk:

Shared Office: YES. While a shared office arrangement is in a common room with other shared office users, shared office clients can upgrade to a private day office for a small fee.

Co-working: Some YES; some NO.

Boardrooms and Meeting Rooms:

Shared Office: YES. They are included (as well as larger conference/training rooms for a small extra cost)
Co-working: MOST (mostly free with membership)

Hours of Access to Office Space:

Shared Office: UNLIMITED. Only limited to regular business hours (semi-private and private office tenants enjoy 24/7 access).
Co-working: UNLIMITED and/or LIMITED membership options per month, but still limited to hours of operation.

Telephone Service. Shared Office: YES (including a VoIP phone option where they can take their phone anywhere).
Co-working: Probably NO (most use their cell phones or other services like Skype or Google Voice).

Fax Service:

Shared Office: YES (because a fax is still the only way to digitally send legally-binding documents).
Co-working: Some YES, some NO (most consider the fax an old-fashioned way of sending documents, but do not understand that emailed signed documents are not legally binding).

In Summary

While some people may need the features offered by a Shared Office, those who do not need a professional business address or a professional work environment may find a better fit in a co-working location.

A suggested general rule: If a business person can work temporarily at a café to get out of the house, than that individual should enjoy co-working. If a small business person requires a professional working environment at a prestigious business address, then a Shared Office is the best option.