A guide to shared workspaces

05:37, Apr 08 2014
Shared workspaces can be challenging.

The image of a startup business as a pair of young entrepreneurs stretching meagre resources by operating out of a garage is an enduring one, but it may be on its way out.

The growing trend of hiring out office space by the desk, in arrangements known as shared workspaces or co-working environments, is increasingly giving small companies access to professional environments that would normally be outside their budget.

It's a trend that's massively on the rise both in New Zealand and internationally, according to Matt Knight, founder of the co-working listing website sharedspace.co.nz.

Since the site launched two years ago it has had over 1100 office spaces list with it.Knight's own shared workspace, Loft 503 in downtown Auckland, provides high speed internet, kitchen access and use of a private meeting room.

Currently it hosts 17 different businesses, with the resident companies often proving to be a handy pool of talent and industry contacts for each other.

"The biggest benefit is the community of businesses in here. We focused it mainly on generally creative and digital businesses so you get a lot of referrals," Knight says.


He himself found two business partners for sharedspace.co.nz among the entrepreneurs working in the space.

One of the reasons for the growing popularity of co-working environments is their flexible leasing arrangements, enabling new businesses with uncertain futures to sign up on a month-by-month basis.

That flexibility was a factor in Frank Stationery founders Jason and Jess Holdaway's decision to move into ColabNZ on Auckland's Queen St six months ago.

Frank Stationery operates on a "buy one give one" model, where for every item of stationery bought the company provides an identical item to an underprivileged New Zealand child.

It uses design students to help produce website sliders, social media images and posters, among other general tasks.

"It was a great location. It's right in the centre of town, nice and close to our interns who go to AUT university," Holdaway says.

ColabNZ founder Robett Hollis got into the shared space market after people visiting the office of his action sports network Frontside Media kept commenting on how they liked its aesthetic, and wished they could work somewhere similar.

So he took the entire top floor of his building and expanded the theme of his office.Shared workspaces started becoming popular in New Zealand about ten years ago, mostly as part of government supported business incubator programmes, chief executive of Business NZ Phil O'Reilly says.

However in recent years private versions have been proliferating as well, he says.

"I certainly started noticing them popping up a lot more in the last five or six years, and in the last two or three they've become much more common.

"I'm having more meetings in those kinds of spaces, I'm seeing more business people in those kinds of spaces, and often the young business people with all kinds of ideas are in those kinds of places."

Also working from ColabNZ, founder of camera technology startup meMINI Sam Lee says the unscripted interactions between entrepreneurs working close to each other generate a lot of useful ideas and perspectives.

"[It's] fantastic, you're in a melting pot of different skill sets, your hallway conversations can solve issues, raise questions you need to think about and help foster your creative streak," he says.

Shared spaces come in a variety of forms, such as Online Distribution's flagship site in Christchurch. The supply chain management company created its shared workspace five years ago by leasing out excess office space.

Facilitator of the space, Jaime Grimmett, says unsurprisingly there had been a big increase in interest following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake which left many of the buildings near the city centre unusable.

Where Online Distribution's shared facility was a pragmatic solution to empty office space, Wellington's Enspiral Space was designed from the start as a home for charities and organisations with an ethical focus.

It operates in concert with the Espiral Network, which aims to help organisations and professionals work together on projects promoting social good.  


The cost of sharing