We’re welcoming Ts117 to the Proximity Network! Based out of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this 40,000 square foot coworking space opened in the spring of 2019 and offers everything from fully furnished offices to an amphitheater to foster collaboration among coworkers. We caught up with community manager Daniel, to see how opening a coworking space in a “heartland”-centric community has allowed them to sit one-on-one with local community members, and get to the basics of how coworking can help keep their members connected to a community “larger than themselves”!
When did you open your coworking space and what enticed you to do so?
We opened Ts117 Coworking in early spring 2019 with a soft launch, followed by an open house at the beginning of April, but the idea had been welling up long before. R&R Properties has been providing property management and commercial real estate services to the East Tennessee region for nearly 50 years and in that time, we’ve developed a pretty keen understanding of the local CRE “pulse,” while paying close attention to trends developing nationally. In the last decade, we’ve noticed evolving demands of our office space and started to see more and more tenants opting for shorter lease terms in favor of more flexibility. That, coupled with the rise of the concept of coworking (community workspace) and the introduction of “flexspace,” helped us see the need for taking action on the pattern and begin researching how we could serve the specialized workforce in Oak Ridge.
Tell us about your space. How big is it? What kinds of amenities do you have? What sort of quirks make it special?
Ts117 now occupies 40,000SF of an 80,000SF facility, taking up most of the first and second floors. From the point of entry, the space emphasizes the rich modernist history of Oak Ridge while integrating functional and forward-thinking efficiency measures and technology to enrich the interface between our physical and virtual interfaces. Our amenities now include 7 conference rooms (large, medium, small, and a specially-outfitted proposal center), an 80-person Amphitheater with stepped seating, hot desks, and private offices. We feature phone rooms, a mail center with virtual addresses, a healthy Canteen market, and a large kitchen and lounge space adjacent to our covered outdoor seating. Beyond that, we’re the only space in the area to feature truly GIG-speed internet (one of the perks of being right across the street from the largest National Laboratory), wireless printing, and high-security access control and soundproofing features to provide for the needs of the government contractors occupying our space. Lastly, we make sure food trucks are outside in their designated spot daily for lunch!
What is your favorite thing about operating a coworking space?
The people. It sounds funny, but the History Channel’s “Pawn Shop” show with the line, “you never know who’s going to walk through that door,” rings true day after day. All walks of life, professions, and types of folks come through daily to utilize meeting space, get lunch, attend training or professional development events, and generally to check out a facility unlike any other in the region. Being more “heartland”-centric, coworking hasn’t propagated as a concept within the local community to any great extent. But we’re excited for the work we’re doing to highlight the real benefits of membership and being connected to a community larger than yourself.
What has been the most surprising/unexpected thing about operating a coworking space?
Tough question! There have been many surprises along the way, chief of which is probably the direction of how we spread awareness and situate ourselves in our local community. Because there’s not a tried and true method for growing coworking communities in rural areas, we’ve been A/B testing a lot of outreach strategies. What we didn’t realize was that treating our space as a Community Center of mid-century America would end up being the strategy with (so far) the best response!
What’s your favorite story about one of your members?
Xavier moved to Tennessee from Colorado with his wife and now works remotely. Xavier called one morning to schedule a tour of our facility. He scheduled the appointment, giving himself a 45 minute-1 hour commute, only to arrive in less than 30 minutes…Win #1. After giving Xavier a tour of the facility, I (as Community Manager) could see his eyes light up and I knew he had found his “new office”. We talked for a bit and he then told me that he had been looking at coworking facilities in the surrounding areas and could not find the “coworking feel”, he was accustomed to until he arrived at Ts117! He became a member that day and arrived the very next morning ready for work! He loves the hot desk option as well as having a private office for flexibility. He has met so many new people he would have never made contact with from his “basement office”. He is the PERFECT example of why Coworking is growing with leaps and bounds, and here at Ts117, we plan to grow with it!
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone wanting to open a space?
Become overly familiar with your local community. Start walking into coffee shops and fast-casual places where folks are working and see if you can have a moment of their time. Get connected to the lifeblood of the small business community and find out how you can serve their needs, spread awareness about their businesses, and provide them a place to collaborate, network, and share ideas.