What’s your dream workplace? Is it a high-tech office in the heart of downtown, or an open concept room in a quiet courtyard in the suburbs or a bare essentials desk in a hip urban neighbourhood?
Whatever your preference may be, if you’re a solo entrepreneur, or an operator of a start-up that’s on a tight a budget, office rent could be a constant worry, especially when the average rates for a small office starts around $1,000/month.
However, thousands of Canadian small business and start-up owners are cutting their rental costs thanks to co-working, a way of working that sees people share a workplace such as an office, a room or just a desk. Co-workers need come from the same company, or be involved in the same project or the same industry. The thing is they share a small slice of a common workplace and arrange to use their designated space during certain periods of the day. By so doing, co-workers cut down their office space expenditure by thousands of dollars compared to workers leasing or renting an office space in the traditional manner.
The average co-working rates start at around $8/hour/desk to about $400/month/desk. That generally includes free high-speed Internet access, WiFi connectivity, use of a common lounge area, refreshments, use of printers and projectors, and access to meeting and conference rooms.
ITBusiness.ca recently visited three co-working locations in and around Toronto. Here’s a rundown of what we found out:
The Work Republic
Tucked-away in a quiet courtyard in Scarborough some 25 minutes north of downtown Toronto is a co-working place called The Work Republic. The place is run by friends and co-founders Raymond Kao and Bonnie Lui.
The space that The Work Republic occupies opened only a few months ago and has around 20 clients who use its facilities from time to time and two “permanent members” that have booked spaces for more regular intervals.
“We’re very flexible here. We do our best to accommodate our client’s needs,” said Kao who is also an Apple certified technical consultant.
The Work Republic primarily offers its clients “hot desks.” That’s a desk, WiFi access, free beverages (coffee, tea and water), monthly networking events, use of document scanner and printer, use of the lounge area and kitchenette and per hour access to meeting rooms that can be booked by the hour. Phone service, fax service and receptionist service is also offered. The place is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for holidays and weekends.
Hourly membership goes for $8/hr. Daily membership is $40/day and weekly membership is $160/week.
Clients who sign up for permanent desk membership get 24/7 access to the place for a monthly fee of $400.
“It’s the perfect arrangement for me,” according to Maurice Chang, co-founder of Dayfortwo.com, a company that is developing a social networking date planner.
“Essentially, we only need a desk space and fast and reliable Internet connection. We get that at The Work Republic whenever we need it but we don’t need to put a lot of money down,” Chang said.
ING Direct’s Café
It’s known as a pioneer in the virtual bank arena, but recently people have been spotting “bricks and mortar” ING locations popping up in various places.
“We do have ATM machines in the ING Direct Café, but they’re not bank branches. Rather, they’re a means for us to reach out to our small and medium sized business clientele,” according to Nick Cluley, whose official title is creator of great experiences for ING Direct Canada. Cluley said offering co-working space and services to start-up and small business owners is one way ING Direct is helping the sector grow.
The company’s flagship co-working site opened in April this year just south of Dundas Square in Toronto. The three-floor, open concept Café is housed in a heritage building that once was the home of a Pier 1 store.
The orange-themed Cafe is a co-working location with a green twist. For instance, organically grown coffee is available at the lobby for $2/cup. One hundred per cent of the proceeds go back to the Latin American farmers.
Visitors can lounge around the spacious ground floor, use any of the iPad tablets lined up along a counter or use the WiFi connection for free.
The second floor, also called Network Orange, is a high-tech co-working space where hot desks are available. A number of people are working on their laptops on several long desks. In one end of the room three people are engaged in a meeting around a small round table. There is also small glass-enclosed room good for up to 40 people that serve as a presentation room. The room is free for Toronto community groups, student organizations, non-profit groups, book clubs and entrepreneur meeting. There’s also a separate room for private meetings.
“The Café is very popular with freelancers and small business owners who want an affordable office downtown but don’t want the downtown rates that go with them,” said Cluley.
Karim Kanji, principal of Thirdocean.com, a marketing and community management firm is a regular Café client. “The Café suits my needs. Many co-working place downtown close at 5 p.m. but the Café is open until 8 p.m.,” he said.
Regulars affectionately call it the Hackernest, a 1,500 square foot, second storey room that houses several long desks occupied by a number of individuals busily tapping along on their laptops. The Hackernest is located at 231 Wallace Ave. on the west side of Toronto, in a light industrial building just across the street from the incognito Toronto studio of computer game developer Ubisoft.
“On a clear day we have a view of the CN Tower from here,” Shahharis Beh, project and strategy lead for MarketCrashers Inc. points out from the patio of his building. “That view’s going to be there for quite a while because the open lot behind used to be a transit depot and no one is building on it.”
“We’re unique from other co-working places in town in the sense that we are not all about hot desks,” said Beh. “We’re a shared office; our desk is yours – that helps to build a supportive community.”
Beh also points out that while other co-working sites shut their doors at 5 p.m. or 10 p.m. at the latest, the Hackernest is open 24/7. “Clients get a security access card so they can come in as they please. There’s 24-hr video surveillance in the place and if, I’m not around I can open my doors from my phone.
The Hackernest users typically sign up for a month-to-month arrangement. A one-seat, half desk (each 6’x3′ desk fits two people) package goes for $400/month. A two-seat, full desk package rents for $500/month.
The place also offers week-to-week packages. One week for $125, two weeks for $225 and three weeks for $325.
The Hackernest has superfast commercial cable Internet on a gigabit Ethernet and wireless network. The place also has a projector and screen and a large LCD TV for videos and presentations.
Users also have access to a kitchenette with a refrigerator, microwave oven and toaster oven. The place has a toilet and shower and there are plenty of restaurants, bars, groceries and variety stores, daycare centres, laundromats and dry cleaners nearby.
Beh, who opened the Hackernest this year, said he initially expected to lose money for at least a year but business has been so good that he is now slated to break even in six months. The place has signed up six businesses.
Among them are: Camron Allan, a Toronto-based business intelligence developer for Perkin Elmer Inc.; Richard Batchelor, a change management and human resources consultant; Evan Moses, business strategist for Eve Medical, a start-up company that is developing a sample collection device that can help women test themselves for sexually transmitted disease; and Notesolution Inc., an online sharing site that helps students share class notes among themselves.
“Hackernest helps me escape the distractions one frequently encounters when working at home,” said Allan.
“I don’t need a full blown office, because most of my clients are overseas. What I need is a reliable and fast Internet connection so I can collaborate with them,” said Batchelor.
Hackernest clients also get to consult one another and Beh also hosts regular community networking meetups.
According to Beh, Hackernest tenants also benefit from each other’s presence. “Some people – like me- have a tendency to slack off when working from home,” he said, “But when you’re working alongisde ambitious and motivated people, it inspires you to work hard to succeed too.”
(Read about co-working dos and don’ts on ITBusiness.ca this Friday)