Sharing office space can have many benefits.
When Joel Dullroy left for Europe a few years ago from his home town in Caloundra, an hour north of Brisbane, he traded in a promising career as a journalist with a major capital city daily for the uncertain prospects of a freelance writer.
You might meet a new collaborator, discover a new pivot strategy, or win a new customer by being open with your project instead of protective.
As a freelancer, though, Dullroy discovered he had more problems than just a less reliable pay cheque. "I found myself working alone in my cold apartment, feeling isolated and depressed. I needed to get out and interact with other productive people." Dullroy really wanted to be in a shared workspace where he could feed off the creative energy of other people. He was aware such workspaces existed but knew of no online go-to place to find and compare them.
He decided this particular problem was one he could solve himself. In Berlin he joined forces with a German social scientist named Carsten Foertsch and in 2010 they launched Deskwanted.com, a marketplace for shared workspaces. The initial launch consisted of just the "minimum viable product" – start-up speak for a site without frills that just passes the minimum threshold for a usable service.
There have been four relaunches since then as Deskwanted's founders fine-tuned the concept and brought it up to its current level. Deskwanted now has about 1500 spaces in 50 countries, including Australia. Listing with Deskwanted is free – the company earns its revenue from a fee on any transaction closed between a buyer and seller of space.
Australians traditionally have tended to work in corporate offices, but the practice of co-working is growing. This is probably due to a combination of factors. The technology revolution has brought with it unprecedented opportunities for individuals to launch new business concepts, a prospect far more glamorous to many than walking the treadmill for a mainstream employer. And, the traditional employment environment has in any case become less stable and reliable.
Co-working spaces allow entrepreneurs to have their cake and eat it – they can be in business for themselves while at the same time working in a dynamic environment among other people.
Shared work spaces, which include Fishburners in Sydney, House of Commons in Melbourne and The Thought Fort in Brisbane, typically offer a desk and other standard office amenities such as internet access, printers and private meeting rooms, all for a fraction of the cost of a self-contained office.
Beyond just cost savings though, co-working spaces give entrepreneurs a chance to work cheek-by-jowl with other individuals launching or already operating start-ups. According to Dullroy, the ability to network in a co-working space boosts productivity and income.
This has a flipside, of course, that Dullroy readily admits. "You have to deal with other people's noise and chaos," he concedes.
But people working in conventional offices – particularly open-plan offices – are no better off in that regard. Besides which, many co-working spaces now have phone boxes in which occupants can talk a blue streak without upsetting everyone else.
Who shouldn't be using co-working spaces? Obviously, people working in businesses that involve a lot of confidential information, such as lawyers and financial advisors, are probably not well suited to sharing space.
For most others the benefits outweigh any privacy costs, since, as Dullroy points out: "You might meet a new collaborator, discover a new pivot strategy, or win a new customer by being open with your project instead of protective."
Sharing office space is part of a bigger picture of collaborative economic activity enabled by the internet. Businesses have sprung up that enable individuals to rent driveways and other private parking spaces (avoiding expensive public garages), temporary accommodations in private apartments and houses (avoiding expensive hotel rooms), designer clothing and accessories (avoiding the full cost of owning a Diane Von Furstenburg dress or Balenciaga handbag), tools, sporting goods and so on. These businesses all share the characteristic of making more efficient use of space or resources.
They will not be welcomed by more mainstream businesses that are being disrupted by the new ones, but the economic benefits to Australia of a thriving entrepreneurial community are almost priceless.
Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.mbaker-retail.com.