What’s Coworking Like at The Mill?

by Sep 22, 2023

Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is The Mill’s regular column, written by Pat East, Executive Director.

A few years have passed since the nation went into lockdown, leading tens of millions to start working from home suddenly. As the economy reopened over the next two years, employers started determining their remote work policies. Today, depending on the survey, 25-50% of workers work remotely at least part-time.

For most people, working full-time or part-time remotely from home is convenient. It saves time and money on commuting, increases productivity and focus, and since most folks had to do it at the start of the pandemic, it’s easy to continue. There are no additional hard costs. 

However, there are significant soft costs, such as isolation. You have coworkers, but interactions are only work-related. Without friends in such a big part of your life, there’s significant mental health challenges. Also, most homes weren’t designed for eight-hour workdays, requiring makeshift office setups. Some folks have completely renovated to make working from home more plausible, but many use spare bedrooms, kitchen tables, or any convenient desk. This can lead to bad posture and difficulty separating work and home life.

One solution could be coworking. Bloomington was at the forefront of coworking well before the pandemic and the rest of the country. Cowork Btown, which The Mill purchased in 2017 to grow its membership, was started by Forrest Fowler, Tyler Henke, and Aaron White. Chris and Erin Martoglio started Workspace by Blue Burro, which also helped lay the groundwork for The Mill’s membership.

Coworking is when workers from different companies share an office space, allowing cost savings and convenience through shared infrastructure like equipment, utilities, receptionist and custodial services, and sometimes refreshments and parcel acceptance services.

But what does a typical day of coworking look like? Here’s a day in the life of a coworker at The Mill.

The Mill opens at 8:30 AM, but as an early riser, you use your digital key to enter earlier. Although The Mill is downtown, parking is convenient, either with a permit from The Mill or nearby public parking.

Upon entering, you choose a desk from over 150 available workspaces. It’s first-come, first-sit, with options like electric standing desks, traditional workstations, quiet double-height library carrels, conference rooms, large group tables, and semi-private restaurant booths. You usually take Zoom calls on the main floor, but for confidential calls, you book one of the private room online.

After settling in, you head to the kitchenette to store your lunch in the community refrigerator’s bottom half (the top half contains communal cold brew, both caffeinated and decaffeinated). You grab some freshly brewed coffee, check the timestamp on the carafe, add creamer, and return to your desk with your Hopscotch coffee.

From there, your workday is similar to working from home or the office. You attend Zoom meetings, reply to emails, and complete tasks that, as a knowledge worker, only require a laptop and internet connection. The Mill’s Wi-Fi is secure and among the fastest in Bloomington, provided by Smithville. You’ve got some major spreadsheet work today so you grab an extra monitor from the gear cabinet which has all kinds of equipment for member use.

As the day progresses, more coworkers arrive, including other remote workers, executives, freelancers, consultants, and startup teams. The Mill attracts those wanting to be near innovation and inspired by the 30-foot-tall skylights, exposed red brick, and original wood floors from the century-old Showers Brothers Furniture Company.

You chat with your coworkers, even though they don’t work for your company, and discuss weekend or daily plans. Some are going to Upland for happy hour after work, and others plan to canoe on Lake Griffy over the weekend.

At lunchtime, the kitchenette becomes lively, with many quick, casual conversations and over-the-shoulder discussions about work problems and potential solutions. This environment fosters brainstorming and idea exchange, driving innovation. The Mill is designed to encourage these “collisions.”

You have an idea for a company you’ve been thinking about, so you talk with The Mill’s Startup coach, which you get access to as part of your membership. You run the idea past him; he gives you a bit of homework on how to size the market and validate whether or not customers will buy software you want to create. And because he works in the kitchenette, it’s a quick, easy conversation, and then you’re back into work mode.

But before that, you refill your water bottle and move to the chalk mural lounge for a change of pace. After a few hours, you decide to work from a coffee shop for a bit, another benefit of coworking—flexibility in your work location and hours.

There are a couple of events happening tonight at The Mill. There’s a wedding rehearsal dinner in the event hall. It’s funny that, even though The Mill is an entrepreneurship center, people still want to get married here because of the historical significance, look, and feel of the building. And then there’s a software class happening in the classroom; you think they’re working on a cybersecurity certificate. You’re not entirely sure what happens in the event hall and classroom on other nights, but it’s nice having all of that energy and activity in the building.

So you head to Starbucks, finish some emails, and take a quick Zoom call. After 5 PM, you pack up and go to Upland to meet your coworkers for happy hour.

The next day, you decide to work from home. Although your full-time membership at The Mill provides 24/7 access, you want a distraction-free, focused workday. You recently upgraded from a part-time membership because you wanted more flexibility for the number of days you could come in every month. Later, you might visit your company’s satellite office in Bloomington or stop by The Mill after a stroll on the B-Line to catch up with people you missed the previous day.

And that’s what coworking at The Mill is like. If you’re interested in a free day to see how it might work for you, head to dimensionmill.org.