By MAGGIE M, Editor, http://thewedge.LIVE
A global shift has now arrived here in the wedge, East Ontario, and it’s all good. Global data confirming this shift has been rolling in for several years. It is now evident, the world is leaving the trading of their labour for diminishing wages and benefits at such velocity that governments and corporate behemoths have been caught with their bloomers down.
The definition of ‘work’ worldwide has changed irrevocably. By 2020, 40% of US citizens will be self-employed, contractors and entrepreneurs, a 2010 study by software leader, Intuit, reports. The same is assumed for all nations in the Western world and emerging nations.
This shift is manifesting in a wholly new service category, coworking spaces, designed to serve these free, independent producers of value. Whereas they formerly occupied kitchens at home and coffee shops, they can now congregate under one roof with like-minded spirits.
There’s no hyphen in ‘coworking’. It seems the term erupted around 2013.
Additional idioms have entered our economic lexicon in relation to the shift including the popular, gig economy, and sharing economy. The ‘contingent worker’, a term used by traditional institutions, muddles the shift by including part-time employment and other unicorns such Uber and AirBnB. The old paradigm of work will not go quietly, this writer suspects. Nail marks on its cubicle walls and conveyor belts will be discovered by anthropologists in a distant future.
The vagaries of employers seeking to lower labour costs by increasing its contingent of part-time employees, thus escaping the benefits cost, gave impetus to the movement. If you work with no safety net for let’s say, Wal-Mart, there is little incentive to stay. In comparison, the pursuit of independence appears less risky.
The irony in this shift is that multi-nationals are sending their remote workers to coworking spaces to partake in their convenience and costs savings.
Notwithstanding, the shift may also have been inspired by tech start-ups in incubator-modeled operations, where overhead is shared.
Free-market capitalism has been democratized. Individuals can now trade their time and ideas at a fair market value, directly. The business world is receptive to them. It is the new ‘normal.’
Millennials, those born after 1980 up to 2004, are leading the change; their values are not materialism and abundant riches. They have been witness to so much economic carnage, common good is the outcome of their belief system. Sharing and collaborating defines them. Boomers are also in the picture as retirement becomes elusive with rising costs of living and shrinking pensions. Necessity is the mother of invention.
There is no stopping this wave of change. Independent thinkers, dreamers, and creators are waking up each day with new hope and vigor–and hanging their shingles at coworking spaces.
This writer just read a 15 May 2017 story in, The New Yorker, title of which quotes, The Gig Economy. This term is still hot–just off the printing press. In the story, the writer quotes a ‘gigger’ (a unicorn type) saying, “it’s a lonely business.” It’s not lonely in the new ‘coworking’ model. In fact, it’s the very opposite.
The resounding message from the Founders of three of our six coworking spaces in East Ontario is, “community and collaboration.” The sharing of ideas, mentoring and friendships that arise from coworking spaces are fundamental to their success. It’s no wonder all three feature social events and social spaces. Loneliness is solved.
The shift may seem at odds with the virtual internet in that these ‘giggers’ seek physical space and relationships. They reside within a quarter tank of gas or a walk from their coworking spaces.
If and when economic bubbles begin to burst, these business collaborators may be the untouchables. They are agile, lean. There is no waste of money, time and overhead. Everything is shared, even lunch.
Statistics report the number of coworking spaces in 2016 was 11,300 globally. This was projected to rise to approximately 13,800 by 2017.
In 2016, there were around 835,000 individuals in coworking spaces worldwide.
COMMON GROUND IN COWORKING SPACES
Coworking is evolving; however, core services demanded by freelancers and small biz have standardized some services offered. Space for private meetings and focused work along with open spaces featuring short-term, ‘hot desks’, are offered by all. Wifi is always included. Business events are facilitated, invariably, seminar and trade show formats.
The social aspect is where one coworking space will differentiate itself from others. Its ‘esprit de corps’, its Founders skill in promoting networking and collaboration are critical. Access to the knowledge-base in its diverse Members is key to all coworkers’ success.
Other perks sweeten the shift. Full kitchens, some with service, and plenty of fresh coffee are standard comforts. Full bathrooms with showers eliminate the need to rush home and freshen up for an evening gig. Playful elements like ping-pong tables and social nooks with stuffed couches offer co-workers place to relax and refresh.
All coworkers can use their space as their own business address. This is a valuable bonus for coworkers craving the image that comes with a fixed address and their customers who need one for the payables department.
Looking at the list of services and their item costs is somewhat akin to reviewing a menu; but, the prices are palatable. Some use the all-inclusive Membership model, others are ‘pay-as-you-go’. Some spaces offer both. Coworkers will counterbalance costs against benefits in choosing their space, and the degree of the access they can afford. I remain convinced, not one will gravitate back to binding, profit crushing overhead in isolation, after experiencing a coworking space.
COLLAB SPACE, NEPEAN AND KANATA NORTH
Emile Salem and Blair Kilrea launched Collab Space in June 2015. Collab has two locations, 2o,000 sq. ft. in Nepean and 7,000 in Kanata North.
“Failure sucks,” Kilrea states as his motivation behind Collab. He quotes, 90% of businesses in Canada fail in the first five years.
The coworking model aims squarely at reducing the failure rate. Their Founders tend to be emotionally invested in their coworkers’ progress.
“60% of our spaces are ‘hot desks’ across the two locations,” Kilrea elaborates.
“Our customers include small businesses established 2 to 5 years and bootstrapping start-ups.” Their business customers may be more established; yet curiously, they still crave this open environment.
“They want to network as well as cowork,” he adds. So Collab facilitates events, trade shows, presentations within their wide open space (see image above) which can hold up to 500 persons at once.
During Global Entrepreneurship Week, Collab held 48 events–the highest number of events in Canada.
“The space is very flexible, fluid,” he adds. This is key to fulfilling the needs of every coworker, whether staging, listening or just working side-by-side.
There is a printing business and a full-service eatery within the Nepean location. It leaves little cause for exit other than to get in your car at the end of the day or, I should say, time booked.
THE SANCTUARY – KINGSTON
The Sanctuary leverages its name from its former purpose as a United Church. Ben Pilon bought the property seven years ago and opened Kingston’s first coworking space March 2017.
The Sanctuary offers 18,00o sq. ft. of beautifully appointed, non-religious space.
“Love making mistakes,” Pilon preaches. “You need networking, you need social to speed healing.”
“If you walk into The Sanctuary you are already a Member. Here, you ‘pay-as-you go,” Pilon compares to other spaces. Sounds just like a church. You are welcome right off the street and you pay what you can.
The Sanctuary is a beautiful, well-appointed place to cowork. The pews, tabernacle and organ are gone to make way for hotdesks and meeting spaces; but, the peaks of towering, ornate windows remain, casting ethereal light on interior surfaces.
The lower level houses an independent cross-fit gym. Coworkers are a built-in market for the gym. Many coworking spaces are contemplating the inclusion of exercise facilities and daycare services. Women are the fastest growing segment, and the largest, in North America.
The Sanctuary is located in historic downtown Kingston, the hub of activity; accordingly, it is visited by those with Masters Degrees and PhDs from the Queen’s community close-by.
“I love starting businesses. I love the energy around me,” Pilon states, ebullient.
“Do you have a religion?, I quipped. “Benish,” he replied. Far from being a Preacher or a Comedian, in his former life, Pilon was Project Manager for Ripley’s Believe it or not, and wait for it, a Kingston Police Officer.
“How does your past as an Officer show up in your work?, I asked.
“There are three sides to every story. I am trained at mediation,” he replied. I could hear the grin cracking on his face. I ponder, can he mediate me some “free” parking.
MERAKI COLLECTIVE, SMITHS FALLS
Jessica Webster and Jeff Depatie, are a couple. They are also Co-Founders of Meraki Collective, Smiths Falls, Ontario. It is the newest player in the coworking space in East Ontario. It is rare to have access to coworking space in rural regions.
They purchased a 3-floor commercial building on William Street. Two floors are in transformation to receive customers within a 30-minute driving radius. Both are working feverishly on improvements, aiming to open by the end of June 2017.
Having no competition will not corrupt this affable couple. They have already held meet-ups as far back as Winter 2016 in Smiths Falls; so, their market is already primed.
Webster is a smart cookie with a keen understanding of coworking and a background in marketing. This writer credits her fully for the impetus in writing this story.
“I encourage people to move out of the city,” Webster says. “I feel more at home in a town like Smiths Falls. It’s a [lifestyle] cornucopia!”
The view from the top floor is inspiring and filled with natural light. The venue will be unique, rich in textures and colors with benches, hot desks, conference rooms and a stage for presentations and multi-media.
Webster is adept at graphic design. She has a built-in sense of aesthetics. Depatie joins Webster daily in the creation of a comfortable, beautiful and unique coworking space.
Free parking is ample at Meraki with up to 20 spaces behind the building. This is an annoyance in many urban centres with scarce, costly parking and meters that expire quickly.
Meraki is pronounced, “meh-rah-kee.” The root meaning is expanded into the mantra, “to do something with soul, creativity, or love; to put the essence of yourself into your work.”
Webster reflects on coworking:
“People today, especially those who work from home and have on-line businesses, work with a lot of technology, or have some sort of career in the new economy. They are CRAVING human connections; but, not just with anyone. Rather, nourishing connections with people who get it.
Owning a small business can come with a lot of self doubt, so places like Meraki exist to bring them together as a tribe of people taking on a brave new world of entrepreneurship. It’s like a club house where business owners, digital nomads, and remote workers can sprint together, put their heads down and work on their own, or just hang out, have that water cooler time that’s so critical to making real friendships at work.”