New Orleans has a strong freelance scene, and many freelancers haunt the city's coffee shops and cafes, imbibing dark roast and WiFi from 9 to 5. We've already written about the best coffee shops to work in, but there's another option that's increasingly popular thanks to the gig economy: coworking.
An enormous coworking center will take over an entire building in the warehouse district next year, feeding up to 400 individual workers. A few, like Beta and Idea Village, have been so popular, they're no longer on the market. Even local establishments like jazz venues and education nonprofits are getting in on the action.
A "coworking space" is essentially an office where each worker rents his or her own desk, or office, or table, or studio, or what have you. One is tempted to reflect upon the irony of paying actual money for the privilege of working in an office—rather than being paid to be there—but these spaces offer the amenities of an office without the restrictions.
All of these spaces offer a range of services depending on how much you want to commit. A "coworking membership" usually means you get the privilege of coming in during business hours, sitting at a table, and taking advantage of the WiFi and free coffee. A permanent desk means you can actually store stuff and sometimes get a mailbox or landline. And an office is what it sounds like: a good old-fashioned cube-shaped room that hasn't really changed since the 1980s, albeit this time surrounded by people whom you don't know.
So if you're one of the thousands of entrepreneurs or freelancers roaming the streets of New Orleans and looking for an internet connection, where is the best work-time home for you?
If you're a downriver dweller:
One of the newest spots is The Warehouse, a refurbished—you guessed it—warehouse in the Bywater. The building was actually saved by a group of Bywater locals who refused to see the dilapidated cotton storehouse torn down. In the end, the result was a large, open, cement-floored space that still looks like a warehouse, albeit with potted plants and climate control.
This one is popular among coworkers I talked to, maybe for its newness or can-do attitude. The Bywater space boasts a skylight, which is a blessing and a curse depending on which direction the sun is shining on your computer screen, and a small rooftop where they hold yoga poses and Happy Hours.
If you're a techie:
New Orleans stakes a claim to a burgeoning tech and startup scene—the self-styled "Silicon Bayou"—but it lacks a hackerspace, a coworking space designed for the computer-inclined. The next best thing is Launch Pad, an office that mostly hosts startup founders, software developers, coders and the like. It also hosts tech-related events practically every night of the week: hack nights, map nights, women-in-tech nights. Unlike some of the places on this list, Launch Pad fits in mostly with the T-shirt-and-beer crowd. In fact, the bar next door is practically an extension of the space, as during hack nights both hackers and drinks tend to spill back and forth between the two.
If you're revving your entrepreneurial engine:
Landing Zone is another refurbished warehouse in the Warehouse District and not far from the Central Business District—a sign of the times if ever there was one. Like The Warehouse, Landing Zone still looks and feels like a warehouse: cement floor, cinderblock walls, noise coming in and out from some kind of vent.
But one thing it has over the others is size: three floors, each one big enough to be a structure on its own, including a gym, multiple event spaces, free parking and a kitchen big enough to hold catered parties. It was founded by a former Marine and incorporates VetLaunch, a program that helps veterans start new businesses.
If you're trying to make the world a better place, with a little help:
Like Landing Zone, Propellor is another space that's part for-profit and part ambitious nonprofit. Half the building is a coworking space with desks, offices, couches, kitchen, etc. The other half (of both the building and the organization) is an incubator: a program that encourages and enables the growth of small ventures, especially other nonprofits.
Many of these coworking spaces have implicit, if not explicit, social justice or community-building missions. Propellor is the most categorical of these: while the coworking memberships are open to absolutely anyone, the group has a clear mission of improving social welfare.
If you really just need an office:
The OC Haley corridor has seen a lot of renovation lately, and part of that is Dryade's Market at the downtown end of the boulevard. Above the market is an exhibition space, and above that is a coworking space with the simple but vague name of Workspace.
Workspace aims to be a home for people wanting stability, and it definitely came across as the least freewheeling of the places I visited. The amenities are pretty usual: desks, coffee facilities … but the location is cool, and practically everyone there is dedicated to rebuilding and empowering communities.
If you're Brooklyn on the inside:
Riverbend Collective is an entirely different kind of set-up. It's a small gathering of about a dozen "creatives": photographers, writers, marketers, social media moguls and the like. It's actually inside a house in the Riverbend neighborhood, which I thought would be odd but instead is incredibly welcoming. What would be a kitchen table is instead a collection of desks, and what would be a living room is instead a photography studio.
The actual kitchen and offices (former bedrooms) create a much homier feel than the warehouses. The smaller group does, too: everyone seemed more like actual coworkers here—the kind you go over projects and chat at the water cooler with—than other places I visited.
If you want a workspace with a side of fun and fika:
Just down the street from Workspace is the Blue House, which might be the coolest one out of all I visited. Like Riverbend, it's a literal house: a charming two-story TK with a back patio, narrow balconies and two kitchens. Some of the offices and conference rooms are actually reached via narrow outside balconies, making a quirky and adorable twist on the shared office space.
Blue House doesn't operate for a profit, and the result is a close, bon vivant community of designers. It's so homey and fun, I legitimately wondered if I would get any work done. They also offer fika—a Swedish term for eating sweets, drinking coffee and hanging out—every Thursday morning.
If you're alternative and edgy, but still work day and night:
Icehouse, located in Bayou St. John, felt the most like a hardcore, millennial-styled workspace out of New York City. It's literally a refurbished 1920s icehouse, making it the fourth recycled warehouse on this list. And like the others, it still feels like a warehouse on the inside: cement floor, high ceilings and a very industrial-looking kitchen.
Icehouse, I would say, has the closest thing to a brutalist design: besides the warehouse fixtures, the coworking desks are enormous, six-foot-wide, six-inch-thick wooden tables. The kind you'd like to hide under during an earthquake. On the cuddlier side, there was an adorable black-and-white dog snuffling around my ankles as I worked. As close as some of these spaces put you to the same old cubicle life, there's always something boomeranging you back.