Anne Hendrickson is the founder of Work it in St. Paul. 

Anne Hendrickson is the founder of Work it in St. Paul. PHOTO SARAH WHITING

For more than a century, the office spaces where we have tended to work did not change much: stodgy office environments in large buildings with fluorescent lights and subdivided departments, where only a few have windows.

When I launched a co-working space in St. Paul in 2017, my idea was to move away from that. I am not alone. I now know many women who have bought or leased commercial buildings in order to create innovative, collaborative communities.

For example, Melissa Dessart took a 34,000 square foot former parking garage in St. Paul, which was more than 130 years old, and transformed it into Creators Space. It is a co-op work space and creative coffeehouse that brings together artists, healers, teachers, and other makers under one roof.

The space offers classes and workshops, as well as the tools, equipment, and room for expression.

Jody Winter was owner of a successful bridal hair and makeup company. She began looking for a studio space to base her business, Winter Artistry. She found that no one understood the unique needs that her business had.

As her search continued, Winter began hearing the same frustration from other colleagues in the wedding and event industries. So she decided to build her own commercial space. Cornerstone Studios offers space to small businesses in the wedding industry. Photographers, planners, hair and makeup artists, florists, cake designers and more, are offered with a one-stop shopping option.

I am proud to be among these women who have not only created a collaborative environment for their work lives, but have avoided outside investors in order to maintain the integrity of our vision and decision-making abilities.

Creating a Dynamic Shared Workspace

In my case, I wanted office spaces to no longer be a direct assault on public health. I wanted people to have energy — not be plagued by bad backs, obesity, diabetes, and low stamina. That, to me, required creating an environment that frees them from a desk and chair, which is the root of so much pain and poor health. The work stations at Work-It allow consistent steady movement throughout the day.

Creating a dynamic shared workspace was a big departure from what I had been doing five years ago. I sold my successful Downtown Dogs daycare and was on top of the world. The business I had founded had sold within 10 years for seven figures. I felt like I could do anything.

I had no plans to sell when the deal was offered, so I did not have a plan when I left. With two small children and an irregular schedule, I did small-business consulting, and paid for childcare as I drove across the metro from Mahtomedi to Eden Prairie. I
came home exhausted. I realized that I needed an office where I could eat healthy food, be creative, get a workout in, and have clients come to me.

I also was learning about our evolutionary need to walk throughout the day — how much our physical and mental health, and life longevity, depend on it.

I watched friends struggle with late-night eating, depression, and accelerating diabetes. They were unable to enjoy retirements due to what had been sedentary careers.

It is a direct assault to health when the furniture, and not the human, dictates your body position, and when the amenities determine what you can and cannot eat.

I found my new mission. We needed collaborative spaces where independent workers can connect and be creative. The space has to be designed for human health, not against it.