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At work

Wed., Oct. 1, 2008, midnight

Together, alone: The new way to work on your own is to work alone together.

Across the country, spaces are springing up to meet the demands of a new work force of self-employed entrepreneurs or part-time employees for whom the freedom of padding down the hallway to their home office in slippers and pajamas has turned into solitary confinement.

It’s called co-working, and the places where it’s happening are as flexible as the hours of the people who use them.“In the wintertime, I’d go for a week and not speak to anyone other than another voice on the telephone line,” said Jeff Park, who runs a pharmaceutical exporting business and opened a co-working space in Chicago last year. “It was miserable. I had zero interaction with other people.”

Park decided to rent a 1,600 square foot space – far more than he needed for his business – and turn most of it into a co-working operation. Unlike most co-working sites, the space does not have a formal name, but Park says his co-workers have included computer programmers and Web site developers, road-warrior salesmen who need a quiet place to make sales calls, a graduate student writing his doctoral dissertation, and even a woman who runs a dog-walking business.

That’s a typically broad cross-section of the people who use co-working sites, part of what author Daniel Pink calls “Free Agent Nation,” the independent contractors and freelance workers who can work anywhere as long as they can plug in a laptop, use their cell phones and hook up to the Internet.

As an indication of how big that nation is becoming, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of single-person businesses increased from 16.5 million in 2000 to 20.4 million in 2005.

Co-working sites first showed up in the San Francisco Bay area three years ago, and with its concentration of mobile, high-tech entrepreneurs, it remains a stronghold. Now, there are at least 38 co-working spaces already open or preparing to launch in the United States and several foreign countries, according to Tribune


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