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The Co-Working Life

December marks the five-month anniversary of Strong Roots Consulting (five months and one week, if you use the July 11th date of my first post), and six months since I moved back to the prairies after living in Ontario for twelve years. There are many factors to credit for my surviving and thriving through these twin life changes of moving to a new city and making the jump from regular employment to consulting, but today I’d like to pay homage to where I work, The Two Twenty coworking space.

For those unfamiliar with the idea, coworking is basically shared office space. For a flat fee (daily, weekly, or monthly), anyone can gain access to a coworking room set up with desks, tables, armschairs and couches: amenities include wireless internet, a kitchenette, free drip coffee (there’s also a great coffeeshop, Collective Coffee, on the premises for fancier caffeinated beverages), a set allowance on their black and white printer, storage lockers, and access to a meeting room. Those on the unlimited monthly tier can also get a key to the premises for 24/7 use (access is otherwise restricted to the coffeeshop hours).

The advantages to this type of work arrangement go far beyond these tangibles. By lowering the financial and logistical barriers for space (the most expensive tier is only $200 a month, no lease or long-term agreement required), the space attracts a variety of people: new and established entrepreneurs, students, university professors on sabbatical, and people new to town looking for somewhere more congenial to working than a coffeeshop or library. The building also houses more traditional office space, with tenants including media companies, web developers, an immigration lawyer, a real estate agent, and several non-profit organizations. Staff from these companies will sometimes come out and work in the coworking space for a change of scenary, and many will use the kitchenette facilities for lunch. In other words, there is a wide range of individuals and organizations working in a space conducive to chance encounters, conversations, and networking – perfect for someone like me who’s just starting in town and in the industry.

From my relatively-short time in this space I’ve made a number of connections both professional and personal, and I can honestly say that I’m more productive here compared to working from home. Being at The Two Twenty has also provided me with some insight into the interaction of work and space, particularly for non-profits. A common metaphor in that sector is the danger of “building silos”, where organizations isolate themselves and miss the potential benefits of pooling knowledge and resources with other groups. Silos in this analogy are usually viewed in terms of organizational practices and the influence of historical interactions: for example, two groups may ignore the potential to work together because of a past conflict, even though the circumstances have changed and the principal actors in that past incident are no longer involved with either organization! However, silos can also be created and sustained by physical and spatial factors: a space like The Two Twenty that encourages informal interaction can help break down barriers and encourage the sharing of information, and ultimately the development of collaborations and longer-lasting relationships.

Co-working and hub spaces like The Two Twenty are still a relatively new phenomenon in North America, so the availability of such spaces and how they’re set up may vary widely from city to city. Also, the model may not be amenable for all types of non-profit organizations, such as those that provide direct services to a large number of clients. That being said, non-profits should keep watch for opportunities to “break out” of their silos and connect with colleagues from other organizations, even those outside the specific area of focus: these connections, even just over a cup of coffee, can spark new ideas and lead to creative solutions for those complex issues we see in our communities every day.

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