As technology and industry has begun to allow it, more people have been working from home, or away from the office. In some sectors such as new media, with low start-up costs and no tradition, this is the default.
However, cabin fever and social isolation can rapidly ensue. Having shunned the commuting, politics and set hours associated with traditional work, many are finding their way back into the bricks and mortar workplace, on their own terms. As architect Steve Coster, a principal at HASSELL studio, says, “you are choosing to come back to a workplace for the stuff that’s actually valuable.” At the other end of the spectrum, established organisations are finding these spaces useful too.
A burgeoning number of big and small spaces around Australia are catering to these groups and those in-between. People are taking advantage of the relative noise – or relative peace – and are meeting people in differing disciplines who may share a similar outlook.
In the Venetian Gothic splendour of the old Tramways and Omnibus building on Bourke Street, Hub Melbourne has up to 100 members a day paying a small fee to work side by side. This revolving concentration of able minds is a fertile ground for collaborations, and at the very least it’s invigorating: “hubbers” never quite know whom they’ll be sitting next to.
Since opening last year, Hub membership has climbed to 650 people and groups, representing 50 industry disciplines. The sexes are in equal attendance, and ages range from the 20s to 60s. According to CEO Brad Krauskopf, the Hub’s value proposition is to, “bring this diversity to different individuals and organisations … we deliberately make sure that it’s as diverse as possible.” Regular lunches, dinners and ‘learning events’ allow members to meet and probe common issues in more depth.
One of the surprises of the Hub, is that it’s becoming important to larger organisations as well as freelancers. “NAB didn’t join the Hub because they needed more space … though they probably do … they joined the Hub because they wanted to connect to small business.”
Architect Steve Coster believes that at a macro level, the process is similar to campus-style offices. Circulation paths are master-planned, “so that you create intersection points … making you more likely to come across other people, in a place where you’re able to have a conversation, and you’re able to make a space that allows you to continue a conversation if you need to”.
One of the two large workrooms is an old ballroom that has been divided into three bands, all open plan. A “hotel lobby” and astroturfed “garden” area flank the central co-working space, where everything is on wheels to allow quick re-jigging for spontaneous meetings. Coster stresses the importance of this instant flexibility.
York Butter Factory recently opened in a bluestone warehouse nearby. It offers two floors with a variety of open-plan spaces, meeting rooms, and even an electrical workshop for one of the tech start-ups that they are attracting.
York is run by Adventure Capital, which also works in the space. There are obvious advantages all round having experienced venture capitalists in the same room as start-ups. Graphic and web design studios like East Melbourne’s Inspire 9 also integrate co-working space into their businesses. And at the big end of town, Google and partners have just opened a seven-storey co-working ‘campus’ in London. The freelancers are coming in from the cold.