Together alone: the virtues of sharing a workspace

Co-working in action at Generator in Auckland's Britomart.

Co-working in action at Generator in Auckland's Britomart.

Something everyone wants at the moment is flexibility. 

And in the workplace, an increasing number of start-ups and freelancers are refusing to take leases or hang out a shingle. They're into co-working.

Co-working is a trend that has been quickly gathering pace. It ranges from grassroots gatherings of lonesome freelancers and entrepreneurs, to commercial co-working centres where you can rent facilities on hourly, weekly and monthly basis.

Generator founder Ryan Wilson: Corporates are getting in on the act.

Generator founder Ryan Wilson: Corporates are getting in on the act.

It stretches from corporate-minded serviced offices to carefully "curated" hubs of like-minded individuals.

Owners of a New Plymouth coworking space hope to invite more creatives
Flexible office spaces changing commercial property leases
Rent-a-desk shared offices to open in Christchurch art deco building

Internationally, the blossoming co-working industry is expected to reach 12,000 locations by the end of the year. In New Zealand there's at least 13 big players in Auckland and growing number in other cities. 

Inside the Ministry of Awesome in Christchurch.

Inside the Ministry of Awesome in Christchurch.

Christchurch is one of the big players. After the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, many businesspeople were looking for temporary accommodation andco-working fitted the bill.

Lauren Bliss Merritt is "chief awesome officer" at Christchurch's Ministry of Awesome. The main St Asaph St building caters businesses of one to three people and it has opened a second space for slightly larger firms.

Merritt says it doesn't try to "curate" tenants, but the space tends to attract certain types.

"The only criteria is are you a good person and are you interested in building a community? So we've got project managers, through to film-makers, web designers, vege growers, ad men ... those types of things."

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Some tenants are drawn there to beat the isolation or distractions of working from home. One two-person printing business moved into the Ministry while their building was being renovated and never moved back, Merritt says. 

Others need occasional meeting rooms to meet clients, or the comfort of being able to ask others for help. 

"We have a lawyer in this space and she can learn a lot about how to run her business from the web designer who's been doing it for two years, even though they're in different fields. And also we run a lot of events in this space, so they're networking with the wider community."

Christchurch had the added post-quake complication of lacking affordable office space, she says.

"Commercial rates are just so expensive. Businesses getting off the ground can't afford that. If you wanted to have a space in the innovation precinct you're looking at market rates, 400sqm – that's pretty much not doable in certain areas."

Matt Knight is the director of, a website which specialises in connecting people with unused space.

It started with office space but now extends to commercial kitchens, unused warehouse space and art studios among others .

Knight says he was probably ahead of the game when he started five years ago, but times have certainly caught up. He now has more than 4700 listings and gets 30,000 website visitors a month.

"I think with the likes of Airbnb and Uber, people are now far more accommodating of the idea of sharing space with other people," he says.

Knight says people have been able to hire serviced offices for a long time, but co-working is different.

He draws a distinction between shared space - often businesses with a couple of extra desks wanting to offset their rent - and dedicated co-working hubs, which are usually open-planned and deliberately collaborative.

And he says it isn't just something for the younger "millennial" generation, either .

For example, he was dealing with established Wellington-based Eft-pos New Zealand which was branching into Auckland.

"They thought the best way to start was in a co-working space first,  figure out how much space they needed, and then look to take a space in their own time.

"So I don't think it's just something for start-ups and small businesses."

The cost of co-working can vary widely. Bayleys estimates the average monthly desk rate in Auckland is about $565, with premium operators like Generator charging about $1000 a month and more budget operators charging $200 a month.

Many Auckland hubs are gravitating towards the waterfront, such as GridAKL's 1500sqm of co-working space in the recently refurbished Lysaght building. Nearby, a new 8,500sqm co-working hub is being developed by Precinct Properties.

Generator's founder Ryan Wilson says corporates are also starting to see the benefits of co-working.

"People get it; the market's been educated. For start-ups, there's an opportunity to build your business through the networks created in a co-working space and that's why having big companies in the environment is really important.

"Because if you are a little guy selling to another little guy, you're never going to grow."

It's estimated by 2025, 10 per cent of workplaces could be co-shared and from a landlord's perspective, this opens up some big possibilities.

Attracting a co-working hub or even running one of their own is a prospect. Even half-occupied shopping malls are seeing the potential.

But because most co-working hubs offer casual drop-in services, there is an element of uncertainty about the revenue. And there is a mind-shift involved in moving away from conventional leasing, Wilson says.

"I think landlords are aware of co-working but most want a simple solution – a nice long lease, with as much space taken as possible. That's never going to go away but you have to have more than that in your asset base now."

Bayley's national commercial director John Church says it was clear the leasing model was evolving and those providing more flexible terms would be the winners.

"Over the next five years millennials will be the fastest growing age demographic–contributing about 70,000 people to Auckland's workforce.

"Conservatively, the demand for co-working space could potentially rise more than eight-fold over this period if current global trends continue."

Is it cheaper for you to go co-working? A sample of costs

* At Christchurch's C-Lab, for instance, members can either pay $450 a month for full membership with their own workstation, chair and storage unit. Currently charging from $195 for five-day weekday access. Hot-desking on a drop-in basis at around $20 a day.

* Wellington's Sub Urban hub in the Johnsonville shopping mall rents out meeting rooms at $20 an hour (half price for community groups), gallery space to artists, and flexible co-working space. Casual workers pay around $30 to $40 a day.

* The Distiller, located on upper Queen St, caters to the budget end of the market at an average $200 a month.

 - Stuff


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