Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Mon Sep 14th 2009 at 9:30am UTC

Sharing Space, Sparking Collaboration

The creative, knowledge economy thrives when cross-fertilization of ideas happens. Sharing a water cooler or coffee pot with people who have different backgrounds, jobs, and ways of thinking may spark new ideas and original solutions to problems.

This is precisely what happens when groups of self-employed individuals and micro-sized businesses comprised of only a handful of people share office space or “co-work.”

As reported by Graham Lanktree in the Globe and Mail last week,

[O]ffice spaces where small businesses share a common Internet connection, printer, kitchen and boardroom are common in London, where rents are much higher. However, the trend has been catching on in North America, where it’s called co-working.

This typically happens in one of two ways. The first is one small company decides to lease extra office space anticipating growth. To help cover the extra costs while awaiting this growth, they rent desks and offices to other individuals – usually providing use of reception, a board room, kitchen, photocopier, as well as internet and telephone connectivity. The second way enterprising individuals come to share workspace is through leasing from a third party company dedicated to providing such services.

The Lanktree article again:

Margaret Zeidler, president of Urbanspace Property Group, runs the historic Robertson building at 215 Spadina Ave. in downtown Toronto.Starting in 2004, the company converted 5,000 square feet in the 100,000-square-foot building to common workspace where single entrepreneurs and small businesses in the social innovation field could rent an office or even a desk.

The space has since grown to 20,000 square feet and prospective tenants are on a waiting list to get in. Dubbed the Centre for Social Innovation, or CSI, part of its popularity stems from the extra value it offers lessees, Ms. Zeidler says.

The advantages of cross fertilization are myriad. One is that office-mates provide clients. An architecture firm I know leases empty desks and offices to complementary individuals and micro-sized businesses.  These include: a real estate development company (which has hired them to do most of the architectural drawings and consulting work), a web company (that in turn gets business from the development company), and an interior design firm.

Another advantage is networking. If the web designer in the above-mentioned office does great work for their office mates, the clients, competitors, and friends of these businesses will notice and could look to hire him for their own work. He might otherwise never have thought of marketing himself to real estate-related firms.

Since the recession hit, at least 37,000 Canadians have joined the ranks of the self-employed (with Canada’s population being approximately 1/10 that of the USA, this is like 370,000 new one-person businesses emerging in the U.S. – which hasn’t happened, but could going forward).

Although some will relish the opportunity to work from home, many entrepreneurs find that too lonely and isolating.

Look for shared office space arrangements to grow in the coming years.

One Response to “Sharing Space, Sparking Collaboration”

  1. Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD Says:

    Coincidentally, my doctoral dissertation used much of Richard Florida’s early work (my thesis was very spatially-focused on clusters and agglomeration).

    Just today, I was writing a post on coworking, I was looking for articles on coworking and found this one. The world is too small.

    I have office space (I’m a consultant) at The Network Hub, one of Canada’s prime coworking spaces (although The Network Hub is more of a launching pad for entrepreneurs than solely a coworking, shared office space in Vancouver, Canada – one of the prime knowledge economy cities.