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New start-ups in St. Louis find creativity in their work spaces

AOL's Steve Case at LockerDome's Lockerdorms
LockerDome.com|Gabe Lozano

As the Midwest economy continues to shift from a traditional manufacturing base, the spaces that many area workers and employers spend their days — and nights — in are also evolving. Research suggests more and more workers are shifting to non-traditional offices, ranging from pet-filled apartments to shared spaces, complete with bunk beds and craft beer.

The LockerDome headquarters in downtown St. Louis is a giant open space and nobody has a traditional office.

"We have sleeping rooms. We call them Lockerdorms," Chief Executive Officer Gabe Lozano told St. Louis Public Radio during a tour earlier this year.

They came in handy in 2013 when some workers stayed at the offices for more than 80 consecutive days to help the company launch a new website.

"We have showers back there so you can clean up," Lozano said.

Those concepts at LockerDome are a reflection of an evolution of sorts in the American office. Many entrepreneurs and small tech companies are making more of an effort to keep their costs down by opting for shared spaces.

The co-working environments call on users to pay a fee for access to space and provide the added benefit of a social atmosphere that could lead to key contacts and potentially improve a small business' bottom line.

One of the newest entrants into the St. Louis co-working sector is Industrious. The Washington Avenue location is a strategic choice by the Brooklyn, New York-based company. It’s gambling on the city’s burgeoning downtown tech sector.

Industrious recently opened in St. Louis
Credit Industrious
Industrious has ambitious plans for national growth.

"We'd love to be able to be sort of, once companies graduate from an incubator like T-Rex, they are able to move down to a space like ours. They don't have to sacrifice sort of the social aspect by doing their own build out. They also don't have the cost that a big build out entails."  said Emma Dively, who is the company's community manager for St. Louis and has a clear vision for the facility.

"A place where people can come, not only get some emails done in a little bit more comfortable environment, but also then after-hours kick-back a little bit. So, help yourself to a beer. Sit down on one of our gorgeous couches and maybe get some work done."

Industrious recently opened in St. Louis
Credit Industrious
Industrious recently opened in St. Louis

St. Louis was the third location for Industrious. It had already opened in Chicago and Atlanta, with plans to begin co-working operations in several cities including Denver, Detroit and Nashville.

"We really want people to be able to close the door — get some work done, but still have the energy level of a community space."

That sense of community has been working for a few years at what is believed to be the first co-working facility in St. Louis.

Nebula is near the intersection of Cherokee and Jefferson in south St. Louis. It opened in 2010 and now houses 71 businesses and 150 members.

Nebula front entrance
Credit Wayne Pratt|St. Louis Public Radio
The front entrance of Nebula on S. Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis.

Savannah Davis moved in a few years ago and has become a full-time employee.

"I really just speak to the experience of having other people on a daily basis who care whether you show up," she said.

Davis' office journey started after losing her first job out of college. She ventured out on her own and tried to set up shop in her studio apartment, but pets and other issues proved to be problems.

"Cats have a tendency to stomp all over what you are working on. And it was distracting because I always felt like I should be doing something with the dirty dishes or the laundry."

She moved her business operations to coffee shops. But that didn't work, mainly because of a guilt factor.

"I always felt weird staying there for eight hours off of one cup of coffee. So, I would end up buying one cup of coffee and a lunch — or switching to a different location. And it just was hard to focus on just showing up and doing my work."

A desire to stay in the Cherokee area brought her to Nebula and she said it seemed to be a perfect fit.

"Having access to a community of people who are interesting and fun to talk to and willing to engage and find out what your idea is and want to talk about it," have proven to be the biggest advantages of her co-working space experience.

The community room at Nebula in south St. Louis
Credit Wayne Pratt|St. Louis Public Radio
The community room at Nebula in south St. Louis.

An increasing amount of research backs up Davis and her story that working from home is not for everyone.

Deskmag.com is an online magazine about co-working spaces. Its 2011 survey of more than 15-hundred workers in over 52 countries shows 75 percent of respondents say a co-working space improved their productivity and 80 percent report a larger social circle.

There are also studies suggesting being around others during the workday not only helps get more work done — it also helps with a person's mental and physical health.

Davis stresses the sense of community at Nebula and her ability to focus on the task at hand when other people are around. She hopes her job voyage doesn't lead her back to the coffee-shop office.

"It just was hard to focus on showing up and doing my work."

Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.