Unlimited: Four co-working spaces that reinvent the cubicle farm

In spite of the freedom of setting your own hours, avoiding office politics and working in your slippers, a home office has its downsides. Where to meet customers for those appointments that you can’t schedule at the corner café? How to combat the isolation of being alone all day? Co-working offices – places that try to answer these questions by providing independent workers and entrepreneurs with the space and utilities of a conventional office (think meeting rooms and copy machines, for starters) while letting them keep their autonomy. Though few rules apply, these spaces generally apply the ethos of a social co-op to the business world. “It’s a bit like having roommates,” says Station C co-founder Patrick Tanguay. We check out four spaces across Canada, from an incubator for entrepreneurs in Vancouver to an office in Toronto’s Chinatown, that share not just spaces, but also ideas.

Desk jockeys in the airy office of the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto

The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), Toronto
What it is: Working and meeting space for about 180 organizations and freelancers with a social mission in a renovated factory warehouse in Toronto’s Chinatown. The building is as progressive as its members: along with indoor bicycle parking and a rooftop garden, the offices have solar water heating and even a biowall. Members include theDavid Suzuki Foundation, design firms such as BFdesign and media companies such as Spacing magazine.
How it works: Events are held throughout the year, but the best catalyst for collaboration between members remains informal chitchats. “It’s a really stimulating environment,” says tenant Chris Appleton, who works with design firm the Movement. “You might have a conversation in the kitchen that might lead to a collaboration project.” Joint initiatives include Jane’s Walk, a North America-wide event to promote walkable neighbourhoods.
What it costs: Membership packages range from $25 for a one-time pass to $75 per month for access to a shared workstation to up to $1,800 a month for a dedicated office.

Station C, Montreal
What it is: A 2,500-square-foot loft with 19 workstations and three meeting rooms in Montreal’s trendy Mile End district.
How it works: It’s not all business; Station C handpicks members to create a friendly, social atmosphere. Though there most members are male and most work in the web industry, co-founder Patrick Tanguay hopes to improve the selection process as the space receives more applications.
What it costs: $350 a month for a desk, $250 to used a shared workstation and $3 an hour for non-members.

CoworkYYC, Calgary

What it is: Nik Thierry and his colleagues Quinton Rafuse and Jeffrey Gibson are in the preliminary stages. Their biggest challenge remains to find a suitable space for rent in downtown Calgary (roughly 3,000 square feet) with parking space available to the future members. Thierry hopes to open this fall.
How it works: As a freelance web designer in London, England, Thierry was already sold to the benefits of co-working and thought about bringing the concept to Calgary after moving there. The freelance community in Calgary is enthusiastic. CoworkYYC will offer dedicated individual workstations with conference rooms, a kitchen and other utilities such as printers and wireless Internet. It will accommodate between 20 and 30 members.
What it costs: About $400 a month for your own desk.

The Network Hub

The Network Hub, Vancouver
What it is: Located downtown, Network Hub gives roughly 35 entrepreneurs a slick, corporate-type space to develop their businesses, along with professional support from their peers. Members can use the offices to work and meet clients until their companies reach maturity.
How it works: The Network Hub is a start-up incubator that supports its entrepreneurs-in-residence through workshops, seminars and networking events. A diverse group of entrepreneurs – from public relation companies such as Elettra Communications to the ethical clothing company CRaZyCHiCKeN and publisher Benjamin Brown Books – are encouraged to collaborate. Often, the lawyers end up helping out the IT specialists. “Some of our members started their own companies together,” says founder Minna Van.
What it costs: From $200 a month for an individual desk to $1,350 for a large office space.

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