Working from home has so many benefits from economic savings on food and travel to more freedom and a flexible schedule. Having said that, working fully remotely can be a lonely experience. And while co-working spaces are great to recreate that café and laptop feel with less noise and better wifi, striking up friendships in a co-working space can feel, well, awkward. Not to mention that the sole purpose of a co-working space isn’t to make friends no matter how much we may like to. The priority is work. 

Jamie Snedden is changing all that.  In early 2022 he opened Groundfloor, a startup that’s part co-working space, part friendship factory. The flagship location sits on a gentrified block of San Francisco’s Mission District beside an Everlane store and a high-end yoga studio. Before the pandemic, it had been a daycare centre. Now it serves more or less the same role for lonely, remote working millennials.

It currently costs $200 a month to access Groundfloor’s community and its 9,000-square-foot space, which includes meeting rooms, a library and an outdoor gym. Having said this, Snedden isn’t trying to build the new WeWork. Where the last decade’s co-working companies fashioned themselves as decentralised, community-oriented answers to the modern office, Groundfloor thinks of itself as more like a college common room. Gone are the designated desks and stilted banter at the hot water tap. Now it’s all about conversation on couches, getting to know people over tarot cards (hot) and gathering for group yoga classes or wine tastings. Work is a by product and if achieved, fantastic! Groundfloor currently boasts 450 members.

San Fran seems to be buzzing with these new friendship-first work-second spaces. As well as Groundfloor, the city is host to The Commons, a bohemian basement space where a mostly Gen Z clientele gathers to play chess, engage in one-on-one “juntos” (“singled-threaded conversations”) with other members or meditate in a designated zen room. There’s Page Street, a cafe turned co-working space for writers, where coffee is unlimited and members eat lunch together daily. Celo Center, a space for coders, recently hosted a hackathon for people experimenting with GPT-4. And Chief provides a meeting space for C-suite women who want to network or unwind. All of these spaces opened in the past year, and all of their founders believe what people really need isn’t just a place to work, but a place to gather.

“The problem we’re looking to solve is not a lack of workspace,” Snedden said, noting that there are only four desks available for Groundfloor’s 450 members. “It’s a lack of access to friendship.”

In the kitchen, each of Groundfloor’s members is featured in a Polaroid pinned to the wall, labelled with their name and a fun fact: “I can teach you Arabic” or “I love airports.” Almost none of them mentioned their jobs. Co-working, it seemed, was just a Trojan horse that brought people here for a higher purpose: to close their computers and start talking to each other.

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