For the past several years now, communal workspaces—commonly referred to as hubs—have been appearing with increased frequency and have become more and more popular with self-employed workers, entrepreneurs, and innovative companies. One has to wonder if they are simply just another trend or whether this type of office space can offer real benefits.
Last fall, I was selected by LORI.biz
and the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal and given the opportunity to join Lori Hub, the first space dedicated to women entrepreneurs. I unfortunately did not have a chance to take advantage of the opportunity for very long due to a turnaround in my professional situation, but I would nevertheless like to share my experience and my opinion on these collaborative workspaces.
“The idea of joining forces with other individuals is a very positive one.”
Without a doubt, the idea of joining forces with other individuals is a very positive one. One of the great advantages of working in close proximity with others is that it allows you to benefit from their experience and quickly get the opinions of a variety of people, free of charge. This can be a great help in guiding your decision-making process, whether it involves the testing of a prototype, validating marketing images, or discussing pricing strategy, for example. Above all, it also allows you to take a step back and get inspired by external comments from people who have no other interest in your project, and often have only a limited knowledge of your field; they can therefore play the role of client in a less biased way than you might.
I have had the opportunity to work on a broad variety of projects, in very different environments, and with teams of all sizes; the advantage of shared spaces is that, as entrepreneurs, we all understand each other. There is no need to constantly explain one’s reality and justify one’s lifestyle; for example, it might be common practice to work very late on a Sunday evening to be able to deliver a funding application. This allows us to share our success stories and celebrate our little victories… and, during more difficult periods, to get together as a support group.
“The advantage of shared spaces is that, as entrepreneurs, we all understand each other.”
Here is a summary of the positive and negative aspects.
The advantages of a hub
- Cost savings
- Various packages available based on need (daily, floating workstations, regular offices)
- Sharing of work methods and tools
- Moral support
- Accessible user tests and brainstorming sessions
- Quicker way to expand your network (sharing of contacts)
- Exchanges of products and services
- Some hubs are reserved for specific fields, allowing for exchanges among specialists
- Some encourage diversity, allowing for complementary exchanges
The inconveniences of working in a hub
- Parking spaces are often limited: this can be a problem when hosting clients on site
- Limited number of conference rooms
- Closeness of desks/open space: not conducive to telephone calls or long-distance work sessions (Skype, join.me, etc.)
- Hours of operation are sometimes limited
- Limited security in certain cases (if you want to leave your materials in a space or at a shared workstation)
- Some do not offer specifically attributed spaces, which limits the materials you can keep on site (e.g. working on multiple screens, keyboards, etc.)
- Some set their prices per person, which can quickly become expensive if you have interns or employees/freelancers working for you
- Some are reserved for a specific field: not conducive to complementary exchanges
- Some encourage diversity: do not allow you to benefit from expert advice in your field
Hubs for everyone
There are hubs out there for everyone; I would even advise you to work in more than one hub, as they will all provide you with complementary benefits. For example, in addition to Lori Hub, I frequented Esplanade and Notman House, which each had there own advantages given their specialities and distinct networks. At Lori Hub, in addition to benefitting from recently converted spaces, I was able to deal with super friendly and accessible co-founders Arielle and Stéphane; they also organize workshops and high-calibre events with renowned guests. As for Esplanade, it brings together entrepreneurs and social innovators, and—given that our start-up was B-Corp certified and aimed to facilitate the sales, exchange, and donation of goods and services—its network and events were of great value to me. Lastly, as far as Notman House is concerned, renowned as it is as a gathering place for tech start-ups, I really appreciated its busy calendar of events. As a Défi Montréal participant, I also had the opportunity to use the CRIM‘s offices with other members of my cohort; access to closed rooms was very practical for my various meetings.
“I would advise you to work in more than one hub.”
In short, without a doubt, hubs provide advantages that are hard to come by when working in isolation. Organizations are also increasingly employing this means of collaboration and innovation by creating labs that encourage working in a more flexible environment that is closer to the customer; in other words, we are migrating from a product-based approach to a customer-based approach, but I’ll set that discussion aside for another article! Also, for some, a dedicated office or home office may be more advantageous (low cost, tax advantages, tranquillity, security, parents with young children, less commuting, etc.). Its up to you to try out various scenarios and find your ideal situation.