The Rise of the ‘Coworking Space’.
A few weeks ago I met with Lyall Bruce owner of Sooper Double D and one of the founders of Fleet Collective and Ryan Mcleod owner of Slurpp. Both designers and both members of Fleet Collective here in Dundee, one of the most established coworking spaces in the city. I wanted to talk to them about their experiences working in this environment and how coworking spaces can create an alternative support network for those wanting to work differently.
I asked Ryan what his reasons were for joining the collective and choosing to work at Fleet rather than at home when he first started up his design studio, ‘For me is was more of a comfort thing, that there were other people doing this and making it work within Fleet’. Ryan went straight into fleet when he started his company, Slurpp. He felt he was looking for that agency environment and support he had experienced after university. But then after some time working within an agency and then some time away travelling he realised the agency lifestyle wasn’t for him. He was more interested in making his own work even if some of it was just for fun. Ryan is a big advocate for fun (check out his website you’ll see what I mean). ‘If I was to have an issue I’d know there’d be someone in here that can either solve that, or they’ll know someone who can … that’s the confidence this place gives you’. It seems confidence is a key aspect to coworking spaces; creating community, security and a sociable space can be incredibly important for a freelancer, particularly in the case of Digital Nomads who may spend a lot of time moving around to new places on their own. Finding that sense of community and stability quickly is not only important for combating isolation but also can be paramount to productivity while travelling.
I wanted to see if there were any drawbacks to working within this sort of environment and if they differed from the normal office issues, Ryan explained that ‘You're always going to have little niggles that you're going to have anywhere when people share things that are communal, like shit being left around the kitchen.’ That stuff just happens I guess and you’re probably not going to be able to avoid it wherever you go. Lyall then pointed out that ‘You’re not all working for the same person, or clients. You’re not all fearing the boss essentially’ so the vibe within a co-working space can be a lot more chilled out than that of an office. ‘You're not all stressed with each other, you’re all working on your own projects’ so with the sense of rivalry, competition and hierarchy out of the equation, your left with a pretty like-minded group of folk that have the ability to work together if the opportunity arises but can also carry on with their own business. That creates a lot of flexibility within a workspace, collaboration can happen naturally without it being forced upon employees by bosses which when it comes to creativity can only be a good thing.
We then got talking about the future of coworking spaces and fleet itself. I wanted to know what Lyall and Ryan thought about coworking spaces becoming more the norm. ‘It’s like anything, things set up out of need and they evolve organically, like coworking spaces evolve organically and then naturally the cycle tends to be more structured comes in and things get more professional . . . you keep refining it until you’ve got it right and then everybody rebels against that and goes off and does something else again. If you look at a traditional trajectory that's probably where it will go’. He reiterates that ‘If people keep doing this, refining it, making it work until it gets seen as the establishment. Then everybody will go and create something new again. Like go work out of a camper van!’ (he’s making reference to my own plan to do just that!).
We then started discussing other coworking spaces appearing in Dundee, Ryan has concerns about the motives for large coworking spaces being developed ‘I think the organic thing is really important … their model is that if you create a whole load of coworking spaces, people will come. But in my opinion, I don't think that will be the case.’ He continued ‘Since I’ve been here we’ve only been full once, so either theirs, not the demand for it or we’re not marketing it well enough to get people in’ Lyall then remarked ‘We don’t have a waiting list lets put it that way’. We discussed how the coworking space movement is growing but not necessarily in a healthy way, Lyall pointed out ‘There is a lot of movement around coworking space because it has suddenly become fashionable’. This has attracted developers to use coworking spaces as a way of justifying large flat developments aimed at graduating students with coworking areas available below. Lyall raised his doubts over these plans when he said ‘I don't think that's a healthy ecosystem . . . it’s this closed system, a silo essentially. That's not healthy for the wider community or design community’.
Finally, we came to the topic of success. I discussed with them my own feelings towards how success is measured within University and for those graduates who feel trapped by the push towards industry jobs in London. Lyall reiterated my own thoughts when he said;
‘You can’t keep creating celebrity designers, that's like creating pop acts from random people in the street’
(Have we learned nothing from the 90’s?) ‘Design is needed all over the place, not just in Nike and big agencies’. Ryan agreed and went on to say ‘Success can be sustaining your practice, that is a success, in that if you are able to do things you love doing and you can make a living out of it that’s a success, you shouldn't worry about selling millions of prints or books’. I found what Ryan said particularly encouraging, the idea that that success can be simply sustaining your practice is wonderful advice for someone who wants to take control of their future.
So coworking spaces; they seem to be an excellent option for digital nomads and freelancers, those looking to experience the social and supportive environment of a workplace while retaining their freedom to choose how and when they work. It can be a great way of meeting new people in a new place and opening up new opportunities for collaboration. But the future of coworking spaces is uncertain, perhaps the concept will become so diluted by ‘manufactured’ workspaces that the fundamental values of it will be lost. Hopefully, this is not the case and as popularity grows for alternative ways of working so will the need and want for high quality, community driven spaces for people to meet, create and work. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
If you ever fancy trying out a desk for the day at a coworking space head over to Fleet’s website. Currently £10 a day for a desk, bargain.
Edit: Unfortunately fleet collective is no more but you can still check out the guys work at Agency of None