Emma Kennedy.


Co-working the new buzzword

For entrepreneurs and freelancers, a rise in co-working spaces gives workers more choice, says Emma Kennedy.

Co-working the new buzzword

When she started her business four years ago, Debbie Moriarty worked from her kitchen table in Kildare with a laptop.

She describes her company, Rentmydress.ie, as a peer-to-peer dress lending site, “like Airbnb for dresses”.

In January, Moriarty brought on board a digital partner, and now “hotdesks” from their Dublin office two days a week.

Leaving home puts you in the right frame of mind for work, Moriarty believes.

“People take you more seriously and you take yourself more seriously too. If people know you are at home, they can sometimes think you are not really working,” she says.

For entrepreneurs and freelancers, a rise in co-working spaces has brought a raft of new options.

Co-working comes in many forms, including coffee shops, serviced offices, dedicated co-working spaces, start-up hubs and even, perhaps surprisingly, banks.

Bank of Ireland opened its first Workbench, a free co-working space, almost two years ago at its Grand Canal Square branch in Dublin.

Five further locations around the country have followed since.

And co-working giant WeWork is also reported to be entering the Irish market.

Mike Hannigan, who runs Coworkinn, a co-working space in Dublin’s Sandyford, thinks the driving force behind the rise of co-working spaces is a desire to build a community.

“You can have a desk in your back bedroom, you can have a desk anywhere. But often what people find in a co-working space is something less definable, that sense of community. So they come for a desk, but stay for the people,” he says.

“It’s quite collaborative. People having a coffee, having a chat. Sometimes they pick up little nuggets of advice along the way. Innovation comes from those interactions, from being around people from different backgrounds.”

Like many co-working spaces, Hannigan’s space allows people to sign up on a month to month basis. “It’s flexible, and less risk than leasing an office,” he says.

Not only are the types of space where people work changing, attitudes are too.

“Traditionally people saw co-working as something you did until you got your own office. But that model is changing.

Lots of bigger companies work out of locations like Dogpatch now, for example,” says Phil Riordan, who has worked on a number of start-ups and is now managing director of CFO4Startups, a company that advises start-ups on financing. He splits his time between three co-working spaces: Dogpatch Labs in Dublin, Google campus in London and GeeksHubs in Valencia in Spain.

“Co-working is a broad term.

It’s everything from renting a bit of space in a shared office to working somewhere that really adds value,” says Riordan.

“Co-working spaces can allow smaller companies and start-ups to punch above their weight when hiring. There’s a war for talent, so to be able to offer a cool office, with access to continuous learning opportunities and events that add value, is a big plus.”

But it is not just smaller companies that benefit, bigger ones do too.

DC Cahalane, chief executive, Republic of Work. Picture: Clare Keogh
DC Cahalane, chief executive, Republic of Work. Picture: Clare Keogh

According to DC Cahalane, chief executive of Cork co-working space Republic of Work, companies are realising that the right environment can boost productivity.

“There’s an energy in co-working spaces, and that’s why you see some corporates placing teams in those spaces,” he explains.

For that reason, Cahalane says Republic of Work didn’t want “to be just about start-ups”. “We’ve a real mix, individual freelancers and corporates, who want to be around young innovative companies,” he says.

As well as membership options, Republic of Work offers day passes too, something that has proven more popular than Cahalane expected.

“We’d sell about 12 to 14 each week,” he said.

Options like this, which give people a place to work for a day or even a few hours, are gaining traction.

Take Ziferblat, for example, a chain of pay-per-minute cafe co-working spaces that is spreading across the UK. It launched in 2013 and has branches in Manchester, Liverpool and London. The model is simple: food, drinks and wifi are free, but visitors pay for the time they spend in the space.

The chain has its eye on opening in Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham in the next 18 months, and an Irish expansion is also on its radar.

“We’ve looked in Dublin and Belfast recently, Dublin in particular. It’s quite an exciting place to be,” says Ben Davies, Ziferblat’s spokesman.

“The key to the model is volume. You need a certain number of people spending a certain amount of time,” he says.

Already, the idea of paying for time has been tested in Ireland. Ciaran Hogan opened The Clockwork Door, which he describes as “Ireland’s first time house” in Dublin just over a year ago.

The idea, Hogan says, was a “hybrid” of a number of things.

“The internet cafe model of tracking time, the atmosphere of a hostel common room and more hot-desking spaces as people work remotely. It’s a nice place to get some work done or have meetings,” he explains.

Like Ziferblat, tea, coffee, biscuits, wifi and board games are free. Hogan charges €0.08 per minute, with rates decreasing for longer stays. There’s also a membership option.

Hogan hopes to expand. “For now, we are still testing the water. But I hope the idea will take off.”

As co-working, in all its forms has gained traction, it has become more formalised too.

On November 8-10, the Co-working Europe Conference will take place in Dublin, supported by Dublin City Council’s economic development office.

“This conference will assist in increasing awareness of the co-working movement and of the options available to those thinking of starting their own business,” says Steven O’Gara, senior economic development officer at Dublin City Council.

Those running co-working spaces are also trying to boost awareness of what they do.

Two years ago, Hannigan started to meet up with the operators of other co-working spaces for “the odd chat”. A website, coworking.ie and an association, Coworking Ireland, was born from these conversations.

“Co-working is changing so fast,” he says. “There’s a lot of different versions of co-working. I’d like to think that community strand runs through it all, but as it grows and becomes more corporate, there is a risk that you might lose this. So helping to understand and maintain that sense of community, in all types of co-working, is the mission of Co-working Ireland.”

The inside of Coworkinn co-working space in Sandyford, Dublin. Picture: Aidan Oliver
The inside of Coworkinn co-working space in Sandyford, Dublin. Picture: Aidan Oliver

co-working experiences

Brian Cooper, the founder of DroneClip, a company which provides commercial drone services, used to work in TCube, a co-working space in Dublin city centre. Cooper, who also does consultancy work, is currently based in a client’s offices three or four days a week. But if his circumstances change, he’d happily return to a co-working environment.

“It’s great for that interaction with people, and for putting a structure on your day,” he says. “I’d go back to co-working over working at home.”

In Cooper’s view, there’s a variety of different models within the co-working space. “Some places provide freelancers with somewhere to go and work. That’s different to an incubator where someone is trying to grow a start-up. There’s a natural ‘graduation’ from places like that,” he says.

Finding the right space is key to co-working, says Eoin Dixon Murphy, who runs his digital agency, CASTLE33, from The Tara Building in Dublin city centre.

“We looked at a lot of places,” he says. “Some were very corporate, suits and ties, 9 to 5. Some were very expensive. You expect the stuff like the wifi and the printer, but for me, community is one of the most important things.”

One benefit of a co-working space is the ability to “use the talent”, with Dixon Murphy saying he regularly works with freelancers based in the same co-working space on client projects. According to Dixon Murphy, the cost of using a co-working space is far outweighed by the benefits. “It really helps to go into a space, you are coming into work mode and are definitely more focused.”

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