Backbone Magazine: More than a home office, less than an office building

Working from home is a double-edged sword. The super-short commute and the freedom to work in your PJs are both amazing pluses. But the absence of sustained human interaction, coupled with the perils of taking a conference call while your kids are in the other room, will take a toll on productivity, if not mental health.

The same logic holds true for the sub-sector of small, entrepreneurial companies powered by an idea and a handful of people. They need a place other than a coffee shop or a living room in which to collaborate, host meetings and receive mail. But many people don’t want to work in a typical big-box office building.

Emerging to fill this middle-road niche is an office solution that is fully serviced, flexible, adaptable and works on an on-demand basis.

A working model

Workplace One operates a 17,000-square-foot facility just off Bathurst and Queen in downtown Toronto. Founder Andrew Hay said clients can rent a dedicated desk in a shared or private office for up to five people for a day or a month at a time. The more budget-conscious user can spring for a chair in the fully appointed lounge, which doubles as a casual meeting space for other clients. The facility also boasts two private boardrooms that accommodate up to 12 people.
When you walk into Workplace One, Hay said, “you’re basically getting every amenity you’d get if you worked for a company like Google.” Although Workplace One won’t do your laundry, mend your shoes or give you a free massage like Google, it offers 24×7 key-fob access, a furnished office equipped with lockable filing cabinets, free espresso and a fully staffed reception area that takes care of your mail, greets clients and coordinates meetings.

According to Hay, a soon-to-be-opened centre in the heart of downtown Toronto will even have a complete fitness centre. “I think people will really like that.”

Hay said it’s important to distinguish Workplace One’s “shared office community” from the more straightforward and readily recognizable “co-working” desk rental spaces. “While we do have co-working memberships in our lounge…we’re more of a provider of boutique office space.”

How people use it

The Network Hub’s facility adjacent to Vancouver’s Waterfront Station strikes a balance between private offices and a more informal, co-working and shared-space environment. Although it operates along the same general lines, it has more of a casual, west coast feel, as compared to Workplace One’s smooth Toronto chic.

John Van, office manager, said facilities like The Network Hub enable an independent businessperson “to sample the market without taking any chances.” By contrast, small business owners looking for office space are typically asked for a major commitment, including a lease of between two and five years.

Mauricio Pizarro, director of Contacto Canada Educational Travel, which provides cultural and educational travel experiences to Latin Americans visiting Canada, registered his business at The Network Hub’s downtown address and has all his mail sent there. He did this so he could present a dedicated storefront in a desirable location to potential clients around the world. “Everybody knows Vancouver.”

Adrian Crook, games designer and founder of a consultancy, also likes The Network Hub’s mail service. For someone who lives half the year in Mexico and has business interests across North America, the flexibility of the co-working concept and “the value of them being on the front lines” of his business is a huge asset.

“If you need to rent a desk or a boardroom, it’s there.” He said his practice recently invited some major hitters to Vancouver for meetings: “You can’t just take them to a coffee shop or to one of our condos.”

Crook also knows he can count on The Network Hub in a crunch. “They’re able to handle any sort of request I give them,” from remotely faxing a document to scheduling a meeting. “I have someone who knows me and knows what I need.”

The Network Hub’s Van also noted that, surprisingly, a sense of community develops even in these short-term spaces. His software development clients, for example, often hold casual developer meet ups in their space. On other occasions, a guest speaker is invited or gatherings are staged in which clients can test out a pitch and exchange marketing ideas. They also have lots of demand for beer and barbecue social opportunities on the site’s deck.

Good fit for many

Although the benefits are obvious, co-working or shared office alternatives are not right for everybody. Hay of Workplace One said there is definitely a certain type of person who excels in these arrangements.
“Our space is geared toward a certain demographic,” particularly creative types between the ages of 30 and 40. “They’re also the kind of people who want to work in good neighbourhoods that are close to restaurants and bars and shopping.”

But, in the end, any professional should do well at Workplace One. “They’re creative spaces,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they exclusively lend themselves to creative people.”

Crook said The Network Hub business model works because it fills a need for a space “that you can call your own.” But more than this, it taps into a growing cultural trend toward “access over ownership”—in this case, a desire among independent professionals and entrepreneurs “to only pay to access a space when we really need it.”

Crook believes that, today, a skilled and modern worker faces one of two choices: sign on to the nine-to-five world and give up your freedom for a predictable, steady paycheque, or access services like The Network Hub “to create the life you want.”

He says he is also drawn to the example of those famously pampered Google employees. What Google is essentially telling its workers with its workplace model is that “in exchange for you showing up every day, we’ll make your life as simple and as handled as possible.”

Most of the people Crook works with “could get better paying gigs” and could be working in swanky offices like Google’s. “But for them, it’s more about choice and finding a good lifestyle.”

Source: Backbone Magazine

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