One aim of this project is to experience for myself all the different types of co-working styles and new adult workspaces on offer. Before leaving for London, I visited three different types of adult workspaces in Sydney. One was a HUB, one was a small co-working area and the other was a new office building. Each place had a specific purpose and therefore, design.
HUBs are collaborative workspaces where people buy access memberships (somewhat like a gym). The ImpactHubs have a clear goal at present. This may change over time as the global movement expands through six continents – it currently has over 40 Hubs in the network with many more preparing to open during the next year, and each hosting city tends to put a different spin on their Hub. According to the HUB network, their goals are to inspire, connect and enable independent workers and creatives. A Hub is part innovation lab, part business incubator and part community centre. They offer “ecosystems of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities” by supply spaces (that inspire), community through co-working (connection) and events (that engage and enable members).
In my view, opportunities is the key factor. It is all about linking people with like-minded people, who have similar or complementary skills and knowledge, in a physical space in real time. All other types of working can be done from a home office or coffee shop but co-working spaces allow for both the ad hoc collaborative moment and organised opportunity.
The Sydney Hub opened this year and is growing rapidly. It is planning to expand to a second floor of the current building. One great opportunity in the Hub movement, is the chance to involve the membership in activities of designing the space and processes. The membership attracts the tech-heads, the designers and the creatives, so when things need to be planned and designed there is a vast supply of talent onsite. These activities also build business connections and professional opportunities between members volunteering to be involved. In May, I volunteered to help paint the mural in the “play” area. One Saturday was exchanged for the opportunity of meeting some members, local artists and the Hub founders – and the mural has not been painted out yet … which was a relief to see.
The next place I visited was an organisation’s new accommodation in an old warehouse. The design was sensitive to the historical fabric of the building, as well as the needs of clients visiting the organisation and those who worked daily within the building. The architects had solved the problem of needing privacy for confidential worktasks, whilst fostering connection between the employees. The offices were placed side by side, back to back along a central spine. The rear connecting walls of each office were glass. The corridors ran around the outside of this central block – allowing for enjoyment of natural light and a view for everyone. Catering facilities were distributed throughout the building but there was also one large kitchen/lounge area that ensured everyone could meet and eat and work together in one space.
The small co-working space I visited was modest in design and size but still captured the essence of co-working. It was placed in the central shopping street and had all of the necessary facilities of internet connectivity, toilets, kitchenette and variety of table configurations. It was also aware of the drawcard of membership. By this I mean, these spaces are different to hot-desking and casual desk rental because of the type of person who choses to work in these environments. They want a creative environment and the opportunity to spin off other people’s ideas, skills and energy, without missing out on the all the practical services of an office space. If you do not attract the right mix of members, the space will be affected. Corner Table is currently thinking through the sectors it wants for members. Some co-working spaces specialise in tech start-ups, others attract designers and digital/web companies and others are targetting social enterprises. The ideal is probably a combination of all of these, with some creatives and freelancers thrown in. At the heart of the mix, is creating opportunities amongst like-minded and like-skilled people, who want to focus on work and their businesses but not spend the entire week alone or isolated.
I have also paid for a one-day Hot Desk experience. The space had many more permanent members, so there was a distinct difference between the casual desk user and the permanent residents. The permanent residents had been allowed to move in lots of personal equipment and resources and had desks against the wall. Their spaces changed the ambience of the coworking environment. There was also a lot more socialising and chat going on between the regulars, which made concentrating difficult. Hot desks were also the worst ones in the room – limited power, in the walkways, worst chairs and no privacy (in comparison to permanents’ areas) – but these coworking offices need permanent membership to remain viable. I was reminded on the importance of space management to ensure fair and equitable access for everyone.
Now to some London co-working locations …
The space at Kings Cross is well planned and incredibly flexible, even though it is not that big. It is a complete building, and when the Hub moved in, the space was just a shell. This enabled them to design everything from scratch and with a fantastic fabric of old industrial architecture. Membership is large and managed by a full time team of staff. Events are opportunities of drawing in new members, skilling up existing members and giving members opportunities to network and share their expertise. The ambience of the space creates a feeling of working in the presence of people but not at the frenetic pace of a high-powered office. The demographics were diverse in age, gender and background training, and the hosting team is constantly monitoring the balance of tech/digital, social enterprise, designer and freelance balance.
The Busworks and KindredHQ Pop-up and going to a Jelly in Hackney
Basically, there is little difference between a pop-up and a Jelly. Strictly speaking, a Jelly is a free event hosted informally just about anywhere the host can guarantee a basic level of facilities will be provided, but even that is changing with Jellies being hosted in parks. A Jelly is a get-together of people working – a nomadic workers flash mob. A pop-up usually comes with the expectation that it you are getting one-off access to a fully equiped working space, but like with Jellies, this definition is constantly being challenged by new ideas and new ways of doing things. The important thing to remember is that they are informal, irregular but always aim at creating working opportunities. They are not the most reliable way of making regular contacts nor finding a spare desk. However, with all types of co-working spaces, how well attended will depend on the type of people attracted to the opportunity and perception on the “cool scale”. But for a nomad researcher from Sydney, they are a blessing in terms of shelter/seating/table/wifi and an interesting way of seeing the city and meeting different people.
A P.S. Comment: As I just typed that subheading, I was struck by the new language of the co-working movement. Must remember not to drown the concept with jargon, acronyms and “in the know” phrases – works counter to the goal of collaborating.
Here is a link to the two sites –