Gangplank, which has multiple locations, has its headquarters in Chandler, AZ. This is a free coworking space. The space in Chandler is paid for by the city to foster small businesses – kudos to the city of Chandler for having the vision to invest in such a space. The idea, as explained to me, is that individuals using the space are encouraged to look for opportunities to contribute to the coworking community. Nothing specific is requested as far as contribution – it can be from something as simple as offering a tour to a visitor, to helping co-ordinate the use of shared resources. The model is unique among the coworking communities I have visited. I like to refer to it as “take a penny leave a penny coworking”.
I have worked out of Gangplank many times but hadn’t visited the space since November 2014. Recently, I was back and, since then, it’s had a bit of a face lift – new furnishings and artwork – an indication that the commitment by the city of Chandler to Gangplank remains strong. The space is large (over 6,000 square feet) and well equipped with printers, copiers, monitors, 3D printers, half a dozen individual rooms that can be reserved, and a sound/video room complete with equipment – again, all for free. When I entered the space, I must have had a somewhat confused expression because, just as I was putting my things down, a friendly and energetic woman named Trudi immediately offered me a tour – a happy coincidence. I’ve witnessed this many times while working from the space. There’s no reception at Gangplank, no security guards, and no “head.” Initially, this is somewhat confusing when you first go there – this great space and all this equipment, all for free? Those that work out of the space regularly seem to pick up on this and are quick to welcome visitors, offer a tour, and explain the space. If you’d like a tour, just walk the space with a confused or lost expression – doubtful you’ll make it to the back of the room without being asked if you are new here and offered a tour. On any given day, there are between 20 to 40 people working out of the Gangplank space, but there is always plenty of room and it never feels crowded. The coworking room is populated by large “cafeteria-style” desks with plentiful monitors and power strips available. The room is divided into two sections – on the left, as you enter, are the “anchor tenants” and on the right are the “drop ins”. The anchors are individuals and businesses working out of Gangplank long term and daily – they have requested and received permanent seats. Drop ins are those who work there intermittently or simply don’t feel they need a permanent spot. There is a lounge area with couches and a couple of older arcade games giving the space a bit of a start-up feel. All of the windows are located at the front of the space and the ample overhead lights provide soft illumination around the space – depending on your preference, you can sit closer to the windows or towards the back of the open space to adjust the lighting (this works quite well). The noise level can alternate anywhere from boisterous and bordering on rowdy to almost too quiet – there’s a significant range to the activity level depending on when you are there. Gangplank has a less professional office feel to it – the style is more laid back than the paid spaces I’ve worked out of. Overall, I found I was able to get a good amount of work done at the Gangplank.
The Gangplank is located less than a mile north of exit 47 on Route 202 in Chandler – easily accessible from the highway. Parking is plentiful, free, and just across the street. With many shops and well over a dozen restaurants and bars within walking distance, it’s extremely convenient – one of the more walkable coworking locations that I’ve experienced. When I’ve worked from the Gangplank, I’ve made it a point to go for a walk – doing a lap around the shopping district and small park just up the street. I find it energizes me and helps me to refocus – the vibe in the surrounding neighborhood facilitates this. My favorite of the local establishments is also one of the closest – The Perch Pub and Brewery . If you’re stopping into the Gangplank, be sure to check out The Perch. In addition to being a micro brewery with good food, it’s home to a collection of over 50 brightly colored, tropical rescue birds – a unique must-see.
Like most of the spaces I’ve reviewed, their strengths are frequently also their weaknesses. Gangplank is a free space and that’s awesome, but it also feels like free space. There is an inherent more down-to-business feel to the paid spaces – Gangplank has an almost community center feel to it. The traffic pattern/seating arrangement could also be improved upon to foster networking and community. One thing I liked about Cohoots, was the layout and associated traffic pattern seem to foster mingling between the drop-in and anchor tenants (nest members in Cohoot speak) – this is, partially, a product of the space constraints but also by design. At Gangplank, the partitioning of the anchor space and drop-in space – located on opposite sides of the room – doesn’t help to facilitate networking and community. It’s important to safe guard the space of the companies working out of there, but perhaps alternating the desks of anchor tenants and drop-ins it might help to cultivate the productive relationships for employment or business that I am looking for in a ‘”coworking” space. I’d like to know more about the companies working from there, but the opportunities to strike up casual conversation have been extremely limited by the design.
As stated, Gangplank doesn’t have a head or general manager available to tenants and visitors. Instead, it has what they refer to as key holders. Key holders are just that – those that have been given a key to the space. These individuals have demonstrated their commitment to the space by their continuous presence and actions (i.e., offering tours, taking care of the space). The idea of a free space dedicated to nurturing small businesses, fostering networking and a sense of community, and providing a learning environment is something that should be embraced by every city. Their Vision Manifesto sums up the space better than I ever could. If you’re starting out, Gangplank can help provide you with the space needed and an extra push to help you to get started. If the location falls within a reasonable distance, definitely try a week working from the space – it’s a favorite of mine.
Next up: CoHoots