By Bay Stephens EBS Contributor

Working in solitude is great for focusing and knocking out deadlines, but a growing population of freelance professionals and home workers are opting for more collaborative “co-working” environments over the solo grind. 

Natalie Osborne, a web developer and Big Sky resident, envisions a shared workspace—CoWORK Big Sky—that would benefit vacationers and year-round residents. 

Co-work spaces are defined as “membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting,” according to coworkbigsky.com.

Although the idea sprouted as a way for entrepreneurs to save money by sharing office space, Osborne said the concept of co-working has grown into far more than sharing a roof and utilities.

Co-work offices have become settings where organic relationships form between professionals who might not have otherwise crossed paths. The result is better networking, new clients, and inspiration that would not have been possible working from home. 

Osborne has experienced this firsthand while co-working in Anchorage, Alaska: The more people she met in the shared office, the more clients she had referred to her. “If I’m in a space where people are talking me up or I have the opportunity to talk myself up, it just enhances marketing for myself,” she said.  

She also sees CoWORK Big Sky as a way for vacationers to take care of business while away from home. As the trend of shorter winters continues, many ski resorts are brainstorming ways to draw guests for all four seasons. A comfortable place to get some serious work done between mountain bike rides or ski runs could allow Big Sky’s guests more versatility in the length and season of their vacations.

Other ski resorts are already implementing co-working to allow flexibility for visitors. Heavenly Mountain Resort in Tahoe has a ski-in, ski-out co-work space called the Mountain Lab, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Users can ride up the gondola, put their nose to the grindstone for a couple of hours, then end the day carving turns on the slopes. 

Since the heart of co-working is being a part of a community, supported and inspired by others, Osborne thinks this micro-community could enrich Big Sky’s small businesses.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could offer opportunities in this town for people who aren’t just here to serve tourists?” Osborne said. Although she knows the value of resort-related jobs, she said, “maybe [it’s] time that we start looking at how we can provide community for fulltime residents who aren’t in the service industry.”  

There are a handful of nonprofits in Big Sky that stand to benefit from a co-work space, Osborne said, adding that such an undertaking would be run as a nonprofit as well. She thinks CoWORK Big Sky could be sustainable by bringing nonprofits with a shared mission under one roof while also offering a workspace for entrepreneurs and creative workers such as herself.

Britt Ide, who sits on the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce board of directors and is executive director of the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, said such a space could open opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures and nonprofits.  “There’s been some discussion about how to bring in some co-work space for the different nonprofits around the community to foster collaboration between them,” she said adding that small businesses would also gain from the space.

Hurdles to overcome at this point include finding a suitable, yet not too expensive, space. For CoWORK Big Sky to be viable economically, Osborne said, support from the wider community and the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce is a must. She’s using online surveys to gauge the interest and specific needs of Big Sky residents.  

A possible next step for Osborne, Ide said, would be to present her vision to the chamber of commerce. 

Although it feels like a big puzzle right now, Osborne is encouraged by the momentum that co-working is gaining in Bozeman, where two such spaces have opened on Main Street in the past month. She believes they will help fuel the conversation for establishing a space in Big Sky.

The value of a co-work space, according to Osborne, is that “it can kind of be whatever the community needs it to be.”