The un-office

Freelancers are trading in pajamas and makeshift home workspaces for a professional office—on their own terms

The Urban Hive trifecta (from left): Janna Santoro, Brandon Weber and James Pierini.

The Urban Hive trifecta (from left): Janna Santoro, Brandon Weber and James Pierini.

Photo By Gabor Mereg

For more information about The Urban Hive, visit

The Urban Hive

1931 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 390-9506

One lonely summer day in 2008, a Sacramento freelance writer desperately reached out into cyberspace for a connection.

“Hello? Anyone out there? Anyone? Anyone? I spend (almost) all day, (almost) every day by myself. Alone. No people. Sometimes even no talking. Or very little of it. I. am. going. nuts,” Janna Santoro wrote on her blog,

It was late 2007 when Santoro began a freelancing career as an editor of high-traffic blogs, becoming a white-collar free agent in control of her own career and professional creativity.

In the beginning, Santoro said the gig was perfect—that is, until dirty-laundry piles demanded attention or her cat decided to take a nap on the keyboard each time she needed to work.

Yet these small hurdles were nothing compared to the loneliness.

“I’m an extrovert, and I hated being by myself all day long. I was going stir-crazy. It’s very isolating to work at home,” Santoro said.

So she did something about it. Santoro reached out to Sacramento residents Brandon Weber and James Pierini to create a co-working space in Midtown called The Urban Hive, which officially opened in July.

“Co-working is basically a movement that’s happening globally, where people who are self-employed, or independent in some way with their work arrangements, have started to get together and share workspace,” Santoro explained. Similar co-working spaces have been successful in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

Freelancing hermits who migrate to the Hive get more than just free Wi-Fi and French-press coffee, although both flow freely. The red-brick warehouse at the corner of 19th and H streets serves as a creative community where members can work privately, meet with clients or hold professional meetings. It works like a hair stylist renting a booth in a salon, but this space is for graphic designers, writers and other entrepreneurs who want professional digs for their businesses.

This office space doesn’t induce desires to rough up copy machines.

Photo By Gabor Mereg

Weber, part of the trifecta behind The Urban Hive and a sales and marketing consultant for real-estate developers, said this is the future of workforce environs. “We’re not going to appeal to somebody who comes in a three-piece suit,” he explained. “We’re going to appeal to someone who’s dressed like we all are today: jeans, T-shirts, whatever.”

The art of freelancing

Natural light cascaded through the Hive’s skylights and a row of north-facing windows, illuminating a gathering of nearly 30 freelancers on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Graphic designers, writers, business consultants and IT brainiacs gathered powwow style for a daylong freelance camp. Some attendees wore semi-professional business attire and jotted structured, outlined notes; others sported jeans, T-shirts and faux-hawks and monitored their Twitter feeds.

Weber said more people than ever are going into freelance work, either due to layoffs or because they are unhappy with their current job situation, including mandatory furloughs.

Jenny Koreny, a Sacramento State employee required to take two furlough days per month, is a good example. “I’ve been trying to look at it as a positive thing for me because it will give me more time for trying to get bigger [freelance] projects,” she said.

Koreny attended freelance camp to learn more about transitioning into this type of work by getting tips on business organization and filing taxes as an independent worker. She also wanted to connect with others going through the same transition.

“I’ve noticed a lot more people wanting to go out on their own and not necessarily wanting to work in a corporate environment, realizing they have the skills to do it on their own,” Koreny said.

Yet, she added, it’s not an easy transition, especially when managing the logistics of business, such as taxes.

“That’s something that a lot of my friends that graduated college [overlooked]. They worked for a couple years, then they start freelancing and they don’t think about, oh, like, you have to pay 25 percent almost in taxes at the end of the year,” Koreny said.

Santoro explained that health insurance as a freelancer can be expensive, depending on types of plans, desired coverage or ability to pay out of pocket for doctor’s visits.

Members of The Urban Hive meet regularly to network and offer support to other freelancers.

Photo By Gabor Mereg

Although Santoro said taking control of her career outweighs some of the benefits of having coverage with an employer, potential health costs are worrisome. “It’s something that I worry about because an accident could happen. I could have an emergency,” she said.

Hive memberships can help offset some costs. They are more economical than renting an office, with prices ranging from $100-$400 per month, depending on desired office space and frequency of use. The Urban Hive already has nearly 30 members, including Meshugga Chic, an online vintage retailer; Dig Music, which manages musicians such as Jackie Greene and Sal Valentino; and a slew of writers, editors, graphic designers and bloggers.

The spot also is becoming a den of activity, hosting Second Saturday exhibits in collaboration with Vox Sacramento, as well as film screenings (they recently showed the documentary Helvetica) and workshops.

“I really want to see us become sort of a community hub, if you will, for entrepreneurship, for design, for collaboration,” Weber said.

Jeremy Neuner, co-founder and CEO of NextSpace, a 150-member co-working space in Santa Cruz, said freelancing is the next evolution in the workforce. “In the future, everyone will be self-employed” was his mantra during the Hive’s recent freelance camp.

“I do think it’s a little bit of a natural progression for how people are working,” Neuner argued. “I mean, with a cell phone and Internet connection and a computer, what can’t you do these days?”

Still, some freelancers enjoy the convenience of “the office.”

Robin Martin, a writer, editor and founder of Two Songbirds Press, won a membership at The Urban Hive in July and regularly meets clients there.

“If you have something where you do have to meet with people, it’s really good to have a place, like an office space, that’s a professional working environment,” Martin said. “You don’t have to worry about your laundry being in a pile or walking into somebody who’s potentially a stranger’s house and putting yourself in that situation.”

For Neuner, an officelike environment sustains professionalism. “I think that people are more productive when they go to work,” he said. “I don’t know how productive you are when you’re sitting in your underwear on your couch working at home. It doesn’t feel professional. It doesn’t feel productive.”

Then, of course, there’s the desire for a collaborative community, a co-mingling of creative minds in an artistic space.

“It’s not about one field,” Santoro said. “It’s about nurturing the ideas of the people who come here. And providing space for them to work and create and share and collaborate.”

That lonely professional who yearned for co-working companionship more than one year ago is thriving in her un-office—getting more business from other co-working members. And. Not. Going. Nuts.