Navigating the nuanced world of coworking spaces

Whether you are a self-employed freelancer or a startup company, moving into a coworking space could be a great idea. Flexible and shared office spaces provide a great alternative to the isolation of a home office without having to commit to expensive long-term leases and added office management costs. No wonder, the coworking industry is seeing a mini-boom! According to the AFR, the sector has seen 750 percent growth in the last 3 years and now Melbourne has over 150 coworking spaces offering about 60 thousand square metres of office space. The experts predict that this trend is set to continue.

Residents working within a team office at The Commons (Image courtesy Cliff Ho)

Residents working within a team office at The Commons (Image courtesy Cliff Ho)

So, if I were to be looking for a coworking space (and there are plenty to choose from), there are some fundamental questions that I would be asking on the criteria of Space, Stage and Culture.

Space: “What are the specific needs for my business? Am I after a desk for myself a couple of times a week or do I need to house my entire team of 20?”

Stage: “What is the growth stage of my business? Am I am just getting started or do I have an established presence in the marketplace?”

Culture: “What kind of an environment do I easily fit into? Does a fun, vibrant (and somewhat noisy) space get my creative juices flowing or does a quiet and mature crowd allow myself to be productive?” 

With these questions in mind, I visited a few different spaces around town and here is a taste of their flavours which might help you choose the one best suited to your specific needs.

Inspire9

If you are a young startup or a techie abuzz with creative energy, a space like the Inspire9 in the hipster tech hub of Richmond is a place that will be just right for you and your team. Situated in the heritage listed site of the decommissioned Australian Knitting Mill, this building exudes a raw and open feel. They have over 70 members in their community with a diverse mix of freelancers, startups and creatives. 
What is distinctive about Inspire9 are the great collaborative vibes and also the relaxed and casual nature of the workplace. The exposed beams on the roof, creatives in hip clothing walking around and computer cabling everywhere make you realise that you are in the very engine room of startups seeding, incubating and accelerating. Inspire9 hosts a number of workshops, events, classes and seminars that can help anyone pick up the basics of business and entrepreneurship. Inspire9 also plays host to the Slingshot Accelerator (formerly Angel Cube) providing a range of tailored mentoring programs and funding arrangements to entrepreneurs and teams looking to take their ideas to the next level. These learning, mentoring and funding opportunities can make a big difference to companies in the early stages of their life cycle and distinguishes a coworking space that is conducive to the launch of a new venture from others that are not.

In response to the further growth of early stage startups around Melbourne, Inspire9 has recently expanded into their second location in Footscray, occupying 2300 square metres at the newly established Dream Factory. 

The Commons

Once a company is well established, the need for hand-holding and shared spaces is reduced and the necessity for more long-term and premium office space that is reasonably private for important meetings away from the ping-pong table becomes the need of the hour.
Located in Collingwood at the former site of Swisse Vitamins, The Commons offers premium creative spaces to a curated community of 50 companies covering a diverse range of industries. The spaces are a mixture of private offices that look out into a lush central garden and a large and architecturally stunning communal area for collaboration and recreation well separated from the office areas. 
Director Cliff Ho recognises that for companies that have found their feet and secured their funding, the need is to exist within a supportive and stable ecosystem that can take care of their essential business infrastructure needs as well as promote the vitality of the workplace culture, thus functioning as much more than just a flexible workspace. To this end, The Commons provides a comprehensive wellness program for members comprising of yoga and meditation as well as targeted business events that cater to the needs of businesses aiming for leadership in the marketplace.  In the six months that they have been operating, resident companies have reported higher levels of staff happiness, indicating the difference that a well-managed workspace can play in boosting employee productivity. 
The Commons is expanding to a second location in South Melbourne and also interstate to Sydney with the aim of sprouting more creative communities in the peripheries of CBD areas. 

The private offices at The Commons overlook a beautiful central garden (Image courtesy Cliff Ho)

The private offices at The Commons overlook a beautiful central garden (Image courtesy Cliff Ho)

The Workery

The Workery in Elsternwick is a hidden gem of suburban coworking. Owned and operated by the delightful Delia Timms, her husband Jeff and business partner Russell, their brand new premises with stylishly designed interiors and spacious desk spaces of just 24 are ideal for people looking for premium and highly professional office space in the Southern side of the city. The Workery is very convenient to get to, being right next to the Elsternwick station and with lots of free parking around.
The idea of a co-working space in their local area came to IT business owners Delia and Jeff, who themselves faced the need to get out of the house to focus without having to travel all the way down to the city. They clearly understood the need for someone in their mid-career as a seasoned entrepreneur or business owner, who needed the environment to concentrate whilst making professional connections with like-minded peers. Their pilot space of 10 over nearby Officeworks quickly reached full capacity and then and it was time to move to their current brand new location that builder Russell helped construct. Delia explains that creating the space with her target customer base in mind has helped her attract just the right crowd and the spots have filled up quickly. The existing occupants comprising of 20 full-time equivalents include 2 startup companies as well as consultants in finance and marketing.  

The Workery founders (from left) Delia Timms, Russell Miles and Jeff Bonnes (Image courtesy Delia Timms) 

The Workery founders (from left) Delia Timms, Russell Miles and Jeff Bonnes (Image courtesy Delia Timms) 

To get to know more about all the other coworking spaces around the city, a great resource is the guide book Innovation Melbourne by consultant and author Taylor Tran who has provided a comprehensive summary of various spaces around Melbourne. This is also a very handy tool for exploring the entrepreneurial ecosystem since much of the community is based around these spaces that enable the meeting of minds and sharing of ideas.

Meeting room at The Workery (Image courtesy Delia Timms)

Meeting room at The Workery (Image courtesy Delia Timms)

Having the right working space that fits the culture and business model of a company is vital towards maximising productivity, securing collaborative partnerships and in ensuring the attraction and retention of human capital. Hence, this is a decision that should not be taken lightly. In all the spaces I have visited, I found people to be extremely friendly and open to having conversations about their culture and community. It is those conversations that ultimately lead to the best coworking solutions.

Posted on September 5, 2016 .