by James Cropcho
I’ve worked from several coworking spaces but I’ve never stayed too long. After a few weeks or months at a space, I would find myself the prisoner of water-cooler lollygagging and gossipy conversations. Having to politely navigate my way out of being an involuntary accomplice to others’ procrastination is annoying, so I gave up and went back to working from coffeehouses.
For those like me who don’t view friendly office banter in a very friendly light, there is a middle ground now, at least in NYC. A few weeks ago I started using Croissant, a platform enabling pay-by-the-minute seating at 23 coworking spaces in New York City and one in nearby Hoboken. I’ve used the platform to supplement my list of go-to work spots. It’s much easier to just work using Croissant. [Note: I’m not affiliated with Croissant, and this isn’t a sponsored post.]
Croissant’s original concept, according to their website, was to help people who want to work flexibly from coffeehouses: they partnered with cafés to enable customers to reserve a seat instead of arriving and crossing their fingers. The idea came from their own experience working together in cafés and feeling obliged to make periodic purchases – often, a croissant. The concept, first conceived at a hackathon, eventually shifted; they kept the same market – people who need a flexible place to work – but now work with coworking spaces instead.
I first found out about Croissant from a spam email. The sender, co-founder Zoltan Szalas, said something about being an “amateur chess player,” and Heather, a close contact of mine, thought it was goofy and forwarded it to me, unaware that Croissant might be just the thing to save me from my self-imposed exile from coworking.
In my short time using Croissant I’ve come to like it. As fun as lurid tell-alls of Murphy’s-law-proving outages, decrepit conditions and general clusterfuckery would be, it’s the lack of snafus I’ve had using the platform that really stands out. When things work well it’s easy to take them for granted. I have not experienced a single annoyance beyond having to smile politely while receiving a two-minute tour from an overly helpful office assistant when I really just wanted to take the nearest available seat and cultivate some tunnel vision.
The “hold a seat” feature, which allows me 60 minutes to show up and claim my spot, is indispensable for quelling my anxiety. I have not tested the feature to bring a guest, available at only certain locations, but I’m glad it exists. Otherwise, the feature set is minimal and I hope it stays that way. It does one thing well: it allows you to spread out work time across multiple coworking spaces. That’s all I’ve needed it for.
Under their smaller part-time member usage plan, one hour of coworking costs $3.30, assuming three quarters of the month’s hours are used. The price is comparable, give or take, to the price of a croissant.
The company also seems to fulfill the desire of many coworking space owners to allow more movement between members.
“Coworking spaces talk to each other quite often,” said Natalie Chan, co-founder of Bat Haus, a Brooklyn coworking space in the Croissant network, during a phone interview. She explained that she and other owners of coworking spaces were already open to allowing more elastic shared access, but did not have the resources to create and manage a platform themselves.
Platforms like Breather and LiquidSpace require known start- and end-times for hourly use of space.
Croissant works well because popping into a nearby coworking space requires no planning on the part of the coworker. But this depends on, among other things, a very favorable ratio of demand to supply. It remains to be seen whether their concept is sustainable, or whether increasing popularity could be its downfall by chipping away at the freewheeling ease of booking. Capping membership could be a solution. But this could create an entry point for a direct competitor, defeating the cap’s purpose, impotent to preventing a race to the bottom.
If Croissant or a direct competitor manages to be not just sustainable but wildly successful, the coworking landscape will be unrecognizable. Much as many coffeehouses now feel like offices that happen to serve coffee, coworking spaces will feel like coffeehouses without baristas. Those seeking the pre-Croissant way of coworking will reserve the same seat at the same coworking space each weekday morning, but the coworkers next to them will be different than yesterday’s.
If that happens, it might be easier to find a seat at a café down the block for a quick afternoon croissant. In the meantime, the platform is a handy way for people to try a number of different spaces, and can be particularly great for people who like to cowork but prefer to focus less on the “co” and more on the work.