The great co-working adventure

AUTHOR:  
Published:  July 30, 2012
The great co-working adventure

Inspired by everything that co-working has to offer, desktop sent Spencer Harrison on a co-working adventure, asking him to spend one week working in a new space around Melbourne each day.

Words: Spencer Harrison

One of the hardest challenges you face as a freelance designer is finding somewhere to work where you can focus, is affordable and, of course, is close to a steady supply of caffeine. For many, working from home is the usual option, which although being a good way to save money, often leads to constant distraction and daytime television viewing in your pyjamas. The second option available to many freelancers is to take up residency in a local café and make use of the free Wi-Fi and constant supply of coffee. This option is also not ideal, with the noise of a busy café proving too loud for some and Wi-Fi often at pre-1990 speeds. Luckily, a third option known as co-working has arisen, becoming a new way of working that is being embraced by small businesses and freelancers all over the world.

Co-working is defined as a style of work involving shared, collaborative environments where independent freelancers and businesses can work alongside each other. Originating a few years ago, the co-working movement has proven popular, with a 400 percent growth in the number of co-working spaces in the last two years alone. With the number of freelancers growing globally, the need for these flexible workplace alternatives is definitely needed. Co-working isn’t just about a desk to work from though; it’s also about the sense of community and collaboration that exists, allowing the cross-pollination of ideas and the opportunity to learn from people working in various fields. Many spaces also hold events and workshops, giving the opportunity to meet new people, socialise, develop new skills and, of course, collaborate.

Hub Melbourne

Hub Melbourne

DAY ONE
HUB MELBOURNE
hubmelbourne.com

Monthly membership:
25hrs – $200

50hrs – $300
100hrs – $400
Unlimited – $600

On my first day, I set off for Hub Melbourne, a co-working space based in the heart of the city near Southern Cross Station. On my arrival, the community manager, Jan, gives me a tour showing me the relaxation nooks, private meeting rooms, Skype booths, event space, library & amazing kitchen. The main space is huge and airy, full of natural light with chilled music playing in the background – perfect for designing to. With anywhere from 80 to 100 people working here during the peak times, there is definitely a need for all that space.

I choose a desk, connect to the Wi-Fi, help myself to the tea and coffee and settle in to work for the day. Around me are folk working in a diverse range of fields: designers, developers, entrepreneurs… even a Bubbleologist, Dr Froth, who makes bubbles for a living (yes, that’s a thing). As a freelance designer, this is an invaluable opportunity to not only work on a broad range of projects with fellow members and businesses, but also have one-on-one access to lawyers and accountants happy to offer you advice on the business side of being a freelancer.

At around 1 pm, it’s lunchtime and, being a Thursday, it’s time for the traditional ‘Awesome Sexy Sandwiches’ shared lunch, where members each bring in a food item and eat lunch together. During lunch, the connections catalyst, Ehon Chan gets to work, introducing people to each other and hosting an announcements session where members talk about what they are working on and encourage fellow members to ask for advice.

After lunch, I spend a few moments chilling in the hammock, before heading back to work on my design projects. Being around the hustle and bustle of other people busy at work really motivates me, which is just what I need when the temptation for afternoon procrastination hits.

As the day comes to a close, I sit down with Chan and ask him a few questions about his role at the Hub Melbourne.

Why do you love co-working?
I love what happens as a result of co-working. The possibilities are endless, and the magic that happens when the right people with the right ideas, resources, knowledge, wisdom and skills meet is beyond our imagination.

What is a ‘connections catalyst’ and why is it important to Hub Melbourne?’
Other than having the most perfect job, it’s hard to describe my role, but I think about it in three layers:

  • connecting the right people whether virtually or face-to-face
  • finding ways to allow connections to occur naturally –it’s almost a little bit of social engineering by creating environments, whether physical or social, to allow connections to happen, and
  • constantly looking at how meaningful connections/ collaborations work and how we amplify them.

This is vital to Hub because collaboration is at the centre of everything we do. The best innovations occur at the convergence of the right people, ideas and resources. The most effective solutions for any kind of problems, whether social, environmental or business, lie in cross-sector, transdisciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration.

What are the important factors that make a co-working space work?
First and foremost, it’s the people and a passionate community with a shared vision and values. This sets the culture of the space and the way the community works. Second, the wisdom of the people who run the space. Being able to connect, run the space and put in all the best infrastructures is one thing, but having the wisdom to build the culture and facilitate the community is what makes co-working spaces work. Last, global connections and being able to connect to people regardless of sectors, disciplines, genders, cultures and, most importantly, geography plays a very important role in building a co-working space.

How do you ensure the right mix of people are working in the space? How do you manage people who may be noisy, negative or disruptive?
Setting the right culture is really important to start off with and, from there, people generally become a part of the social fabric of the community that look after one another. We also do community mapping to keep track of the kind of people we’re attracting and who is in the space.

Architecturally, there’s the high ceiling, background music and diverse spaces for different purposes (phone calls, Skype, small group meetings, brainstorming, creative ‘gamestorming’, events).

How do you think a designer could benefit from working in a co-working space?
Being connected to a network of people from a variety of disciplines that the graphic designer can work with and collaborate with would be the main benefit. For example, recently one of our members, International Detention Coalition, was looking for a graphic designer to create a logo for its global campaign to end children in detention centres.

Inspire9

Inspire9

DAY TWO
INSPIRE9
inspire9.com.au

Casual basis – free
Monthly rates:
2 days per week – $250

5 days per week – $440

On day two, I head to Richmond to spend the day at the Inspire9 co-working space run by a web development agency of the same name. Initially starting as drop-in desks to make use of spare desks, the space quickly took off and has become popular for start-ups and developers. The great thing about Inspire9 is that the drop-in desks are totally free, giving freelancers an opportunity to work away from home and ensure there are always fresh faces and fresh ideas circulating.

The space itself is a large, light-filled warehouse with meeting spaces, a communal kitchen, event space and a couch area to relax in after a hard day’s work. Near the entrance is a pool table, which gets some heavy usage throughout the day as workers take a break from staring at their screens.

In the afternoon Sam, the community manager, holds the fortnightly 5×5 talks, where five people in the space have five minutes to talk about a project they are working on.

After the talks, it opens up to questions from the audience, enabling them to find out more and possibly help out the speakers with their work. This culture of sharing and openness is really what makes a co-working space work, enabling the free exchange of ideas and skills.

A sign of how amazing and supportive the community that has formed at Inspire9 was demonstrated after a recent event at the space. At the event one of the workers had her iPhone stolen, leaving her understandably upset. The next day a member of the community set up a pledge for a new iPhone and, within two hours, enough funds had been raised from the community to replace her phone. This restoring of the balance was important to the community, ensuring that trust in the community and its common values are held sacred and make the space work.

I ask the founder of the space, Nathan Sampimon, a couple questions about Inspire9:

Why do you love co-working?
I love co-working because it’s a more human way of working. Traditional models of work have been inspired by the Industrial Revolution. Workers packed into buildings in uniform cubicles, to 20 x 20 grids, stacked in skyscrapers 50 storeys high. Co-working is out there to add a human factor to the way we work.

What are the important factors that make a co-working space work?
Community, community and community. It’s all about the people.

How do you think a graphic designer could benefit from working in a co-working space?
First, co-working spaces aren’t your average workspace. Inspire9 is in an old knitting mill, the Hub is in a refurbished ballroom. You get to work in environments that allow creativity to thrive, and can be really inspiring.

House of Commons

House of Commons

DAY THREE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
houseof.co

Drop in – first day free / $25 per day thereafter
Monthly rates:
2 days per week – $220

Permanent monthly rates:
3 months – $450

6 months – $420
12 months – $400

It’s day three and I find myself in the newly established House of Commons co-working space in Abbotsford.

Located in an old warehouse, the space has been completely refitted by the founder Marc Katsambis, with new desks, designer lighting, blackboard walls, a machine and a ping pong table. With beautiful exposed redbrick walls and prints on the walls, it is the perfect space for a freelancer or small design business.

Still in its early days, the space is currently home to Koodoz Design and two small start-ups, with desks to spare for newcomers to the space. With a relaxed atmosphere and some good music over the stereo, it’s a pleasure spending the day working and chatting about all things web with the House of Commons folk.

Although still young, what is your vision for House of Commons?
When I decided to create this space, it was with the intention of having a shared space for fellow creatives, especially those in the web industry. We had worked from another shared co-working space in the past and, although it was great, we realised how important it was, very early on, to co-inhabit a space with people who are like-minded. I’m hoping the House of Commons can become a place where digital designers and web folk can get together, play some table tennis and talk shop. As a small business owner, I find being able to discuss industry related topics, share information on emerging technologies and share business tips and advice with each other is priceless – and, so far, I think we’re already reaping the benefits of this.

What kind of people are you looking to work with in the space?
Our focus is on sharing the space with other professionals – freelancers or small businesses – who work in the digital, web or mobile arena. Having said that, the space is not exclusive to those industries. Koodoz Design, which is currently based here, is a creative design agency that specialises in all facets of digital and traditional media, so we’re also open to other graphic designers, copywriters, illustrators, digital artists, software developers and other creatives.

Do you do anything to encourage collaboration and interaction between members of the space?
We’re fairly new, having only been open since January [2012]. So, besides our launch party and the odd barbecue and beers, we haven’t got anything set in stone. We’re very keen on the idea of networking and collaborating with Melbourne’s talent, so holding more events in the future is definitely on the cards.

Electron Workshop

Electron Workshop

DAY FOUR
ELECTRON WORKSHOP
electronworkshop.com.au

Drop in – first day free / $33 per day thereafter
Monthly rates:
2 days per week – $220

Permanent desk – $495

It’s all about pixels and electrons at the Electron Workshop, another newly established co-working space close to the city in North Melbourne. Home to all things digital and beyond, this is where I head for the fourth day of my co-working adventure.

Setting up in a beautiful warehouse, founders Nick Jaffe and Martin Gleeson spent 10 months painting, building and renovating the space. Showing their love of all things digital, they even went as far as to tile their kitchen and bathroom with some pixel art. To offset the fact that digital and technology folks burn through the electrons, they run the place as greenly as possible with 100 percent carbonoffset electricity and natural gas. They are also looking to make the place physically green, with Nick outlining his plan for trees growing inside the space, vines covering the exposed beams and an herb wall in the kitchen.

Describing themselves as a “coffee shop, but the coffee is free and you can stay as long as you like,” Electron’s vibe is laid back and a great place to get some work done. Similar to many of the other spaces, it has somewhere to kick back and take a break, with its kitchen sporting a foosball table that is popular with the tenants. While I’m working, it sounds like some furiously fought games are going on, with the occasional celebratory cheer ringing out through the space. Although the place is still young, Nick has some great things in mind for Electron Workshop, planning to grow a community of digital minded folks who can work, collaborate and socialise together in the space.

To find out a bit more about Electron Workshop, I ask Nick a few questions.

What inspired you to start your own co-working space?
As small business owners quickly outgrowing a leased office, we needed more room for our own operations, but also really wanted to be around similarly likeminded individuals in a more collaborative environment. With this in mind, the only real option was co-working, yet we had unique requirements in terms of needing storage space (for one of our online businesses), as well as also requiring a location in the north.

What is your vision for the Electron Workshop?
Our vision is for it to become a hub for innovative, small digital businesses, with a focus on providing a strong, collaborative, and open plan work environment for computer-based creatives. Freelancing, or being part of a small business is incredibly hard work, and having the opportunity to be around people going through a similar experience is an invaluable asset to being successful socially, collaboratively and for one’s own well-being.

What do you love about co-working?
One of the great things about co-working is the influx of new people and fresh ideas. Working long hours alone, or in a small business can sometimes be stifling, as we can easily end up with an ‘echo chamber’ effect. It’s great having new people around, bouncing ideas and, in some cases, creating new business opportunities and contacts.

York Butter Factory

York Butter Factory

DAY FIVE
YORK BUTTER FACTORY
yorkbutterfactory.com

Monthly rates:
Part time – from $100

Permanent desk – $600

For the last day of my adventure, I head to the York Butter Factory in the CBD, which was founded last year to provide an environment for digital media and Web 2.0 entrepreneurs to work in, share ideas and collaborate. As the name suggests, it’s situated in an old butter factory built in 1855, and results in the ultimate juxtaposition of old meets new, with tech entrepreneurs co-working in one of Melbourne’s oldest buildings. Already hosting nearly 20 start-ups, it has a close community of entrepreneurial minded people, which the York Butter Factory fosters through holding regular events, Friday drinks and movie screenings in the space.

Although having more of a focus on tech start-ups and entrepreneurs, the space is perfect for digital designers looking for something different from the normal studio environment. With many start-ups seeing the value of having designers on board early in the development of their products, there is plenty of potential for collaboration. At the same time, many designers these days are beginning to come up with their own apps and products; so being in a space like this gives you access to the coders, developers and venture capitalists you may need to bring it to life. Who knows, you may end up working on the next Instagram and becoming an overnight billionaire…

To find out a bit more, I ask one of the founders, Darcy Naunton, a couple questions about the York Butter Factory space.

Why do you love co-working?
I love co-working because of the selfless attitude that the people in the space have. Everyone is so generous with their time, providing feedback on ideas and sharing their experiences, regardless of how busy they may be.

What is your vision for the York Butter co-working space?
Success for us is defined by having a large number of companies successfully grow their business outside of Australia and make names for themselves on the world stage. As the number of success stories grows and the ‘YBF alumni’ expands, then this pool of talented entrepreneurs/mentors becomes a great resource for the future tenants and, in turn, increases their chances of success.

Do you do anything to encourage collaboration and interaction between members of the space?
We spend a lot of time thinking about and implementing ways to encourage collaboration. While you need to draw a balance between providing opportunities for collaboration and drawing people away from working on their business, we find that our community feeds off the positive energy of others in the space. York Butter Factory holds a weekly ‘show and tell’ (where teams update each other on their progress) and a book club, regularly hosts relevant speakers sharing their experience and expertise, holds a number of meetup events after hours, and provides each company with the opportunity to pitch their ideas or companies to other tenants in order to get useful feedback.

So it is the end of my co-working adventure and I have had a great week meeting lots of friendly people in the co-working spaces around Melbourne and getting a sense of the communities that have formed. The thing that has stood out for me the most in the spaces I have visited is the support of the communities that form in these spaces and the open culture of sharing and collaboration that is fostered. It’s easy to see why so many people are getting into co-working with it being a great alternative to the traditional ways of working.

To get a good feeling for co-working it has to be experienced though, so I encourage all designers to get out there and try it for themselves.

Most spaces will let you come in for a day for free to test it out and see if the space and community fit your needs. With such a broad range of spaces available, there is something to suit every designer. As a result of this adventure, I am planning on moving my own design business to a co-working space, to see if it can benefit from the collaborations that could occur. The hardest part now is choosing which one.

For a listing of co-working spaces across Australia, head to bit.ly/coworkingdirectory

*All prices are correct at the time of publishing this article in desktop magazine in June 2012.

5 Responses

  1. Nice work Spencer. Good morning read

  2. Simon Ashford

    Spencer, Great read. Well done.

  3. Grace

    Loved this article! Thanks for the recommendations :)

  4. Theresa

    Great article!

  5. I work from a great co working space in Brisbane called The Idea Lab. It was set up to add a more communal experience to a web development company. There is 3 graphic designers, 2 film guys and the web guys. It isn’t about making money which is great for us younger studios starting up.

    Check it out at http://theidealab.com.au/the-idea-lab/the-idea-lab-moves-to-cool-new-digs/

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