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Outgrowing your co-working space

Wednesday, 27 March 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

When Yahoo! chief executive Marissa Mayer announced a complete ban on employees working from home in late February, she copped a hefty amount of criticism.

 

But as Mayer wrote in her memo to staff, some of the best decisions and insights come from “hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings”.

 

The international co-working community has thrown its support behind Mayer, insisting workers are more productive when they are together than when they are alone.

 

In fact, Mayer’s decision was one of the hot topics at the annual Global Coworking Conference, held in Texas earlier this month.

 

Nearly 500 shared workspace enthusiasts met to discuss the merits of working alongside others, and the evolution of the way we work.

 

Of course, not everyone is a fan of shared workspaces, however modern they might be.

 

Among the critics is British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who has stated: “In 30 years’ time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.”

 

But for many people, offices – and co-working spaces in particular – offer an opportunity that is simply not available whilst working from home. That is, the opportunity to collaborate.

 

Co-working spaces continue to gain pace throughout the world, and Australia is certainly no stranger to the concept, having welcomed a throng of new venues in recent years – much to the delight of start-ups.

 

However, there comes a time when start-ups need to decide whether they’ve outgrown their co-working space.

 

StartupSmart spoke to a number of industry players to determine whether you’d suit a co-working space, when it’s time to move on, and how co-working spaces could improve.

 

Pros and cons of co-working spaces

 

If you do decide to use a co-working space, you need to think about how it will affect your operation. For example, you and your team could run the risk of being distracted by others.

 

“This can definitely happen. It’s up to the individual. Those who thrive in co-working spaces are able to block out distractions when they need to get down to work,” says Tweaky.com co-founder Ned Dwyer, who used to work out of Inspire9.

 

Dwyer was also a panelist at Australia’s 2013 Coworking Conference, hosted by Inspire9 and Hub Melbourne earlier this month.

 

In addition to distractions, the image you wish to convey to clients can become an issue when you’re operating in a co-working space.

 

“Co-working spaces can affect how clients perceive you,” Dwyer says.

 

“But generally it’s in the positive – in my experience clients found it amusing that we worked in such an unusual environment. If your clients might care, maybe it’s not for you.”

 

Sole trader Linnet Hunter, founder of Wild Sky, lives in the country but uses Hub Melbourne as her city base one day a week. Like Dwyer, she says her clients are intrigued by co-working.

 

“I do a lot of one-to-one coaching, which requires a private and confidential space,” says Hunter.

 

“I have always had the most positive response from clients… They have always been thrilled to meet at the space.

 

“It has quite a corporate feel and some clients are under the impression that everyone in the room works for me, which is a good start!

 

“They are always curious and delighted to find the space, and to know more about it. I am perceived as being quite ahead of my contemporaries by being part of it.”

 

Getting the most bang for your buck

 

David Vandenberg, who heads up Fishburners and EngineRoom in Sydney, admits co-working spaces could, at times, be more flexible and less generalist in their approach.

 

However, he has made a point of developing two very different offerings within his own co-working spaces.

 

“With EngineRoom, they’re the spaces I’ve created for digital businesses, whereas Fishburners is focused on tech product businesses,” he says.

 

“The digital service guys have clients, designers, developers, UX, SEO – that type of thing.

 

“Right from day one, I’ve been tailoring the EngineRoom spaces to be accommodative of that so that they’re presentable. It’s definitely somewhere where people do bring their clients.

 

“It has been [the same] with Fishburners but that’s not the main purpose of Fishburners. A lot of those guys aren’t really dealing with clients so much.”

 

Hunter believes co-working spaces are getting better at catering for the specific needs of start-ups, and are becoming more flexible.

 

“Hub [Melbourne] has created permanent spots for groups who now have a few employees – something they refused to do in the early days,” she says.

 

“The Hub is flexible in that it alters its approach as it grows and tries to involve the members in changes to some extent.”

 

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Outstaying your welcome

 

Dwyer says while a co-working space can offer start-ups numerous benefits, there are ways of knowing when you’ve outgrown it:

 

  • You’ve got more employees than will fit into the meeting room for your morning WIP.
  • Your employees are spending more time playing ping pong than shipping product.
  • That big client comes in for a meeting but the meeting room is double-booked so you have to go to the ball pit.
  • They run out of desks to house your employees.

 

Vandenberg is quick to point out size isn’t the only factor, although it is an important one.

 

“The things they’re thinking about are ownership of their culture and ownership of their space and branding,” Vandenberg says.

 

“Obviously once you get up to 20 or 30 people, you shouldn’t be in a co-working space – that doesn’t make sense. I find the transition point is around six to 10 people.

 

“When companies get around that size – say around the 10 mark – that’s when it becomes a lot less valuable to be part of a community like that… There’s less opportunity for engagement.”

 

Moving out

 

“The first thing is to communicate clearly with the space you’re moving out of. They’re a small business themselves relying on your rent for their income so they need to plan,” says Dwyer.

 

“Let them know it’s not working for you (for whatever reason) and give them a roadmap for how and when you’ll be moving out.

 

“Often these spaces are incredibly responsive to feedback so if there is an issue causing you to leave, make sure you let the space know – they might even be able to fix it.

 

“Finally it’s usually easiest to move on the weekends as it’s far less distracting for other members of the space and doesn’t interrupt your own work week.”

 

Another entrepreneur, who wished to remain anonymous, says they are considering moving out of their current co-working space, but doesn’t anticipate it will be a tricky process.

 

“I am thinking of moving to another larger, less crowded, less noisy co-op space. I would need to change my address on about three documents and that would be it,” the entrepreneur says.

 

Keeping in touch

 

Dwyer says it’s definitely worth staying in touch with your co-working space even after you’ve moved out.

 

“We still stay in touch with Inspire9 and go back to work out of there at least once a month. We still feel like we’re part of the community but we also enjoy the benefits of having our own space,” he says.

 

“By being a part of the community, we’re able to find out about upcoming events, find out what other cool start-ups are working on and find new people we can work with.”

 

The changing face of co-working spaces

 

“We’re going to see more specialisation going forward. That’s what should happen,” says Vandenberg.

 

“Personally, I’m not a big fan of just your regular co-working spaces… It can be a bit too social and not really focused on business. But I think there’s a huge space for more specialisation.

 

“We see more spaces opening up around hardware hacking, industrial design, video production and other markets that need different types of shared resources and infrastructure.”

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