As more people launch their own start-ups, a new company is providing all the benefits of an office without the hefty overheads, writes Michael Baker.
When Joel Dullroy left for Europe a few years ago from his home town of Caloundra, an hour north of Brisbane, he traded in a promising career as a journalist with a major capital-city daily for the uncertain prospects of a freelance writer.
As a freelancer, though, Dullroy discovered he had more problems than just a less reliable pay cheque.
"I found myself working alone in my cold apartment, feeling isolated and depressed. I needed to get out and interact with other productive people," he says.
Dullroy really wanted to be in a shared workspace where he could feed off the creative energy of other people. He was aware that such workspaces existed, but knew of no online go-to place to find and compare them.
He decided this particular problem was one he could solve himself. In Berlin, he joined forces with a German social scientist named Carsten Foertsch and in 2010, they launched Deskwanted.com, a marketplace for shared workspaces. The initial launch consisted of just the "minimum viable product" - start-up speak for a site without frills that just passes the minimum threshold for a usable service.
There have been four relaunches since then as Deskwanted's founders fine-tuned the concept and brought it up to its current level. Deskwanted now has about 1500 spaces in 50 countries, including Australia. Listing with Deskwanted is free - the company earns its revenue from a fee on any transaction between a buyer and seller of space.
Australians have traditionally tended to work in corporate offices, but the practice of co-working is growing. This is probably because of a combination of factors. The technology revolution has brought with it unprecedented opportunities for individuals to launch new business concepts, a prospect far more glamorous to many than walking the treadmill for an employer. And, the traditional employment environment has become less stable and reliable.
Co-working spaces enable entrepreneurs to have their cake and eat it - they can be in business for themselves while working in a dynamic environment among other people.
Shared workspaces, which include Fishburners in Sydney, House of Commons in Melbourne, and The Thought Fort in Brisbane, typically offer a desk and other standard office amenities, such as internet access, printers and private meeting rooms, all for a fraction of the cost of a self-contained office.
Beyond just cost savings, though, co-working spaces give entrepreneurs a chance to work cheek-by-jowl with other individuals launching or already operating start-ups. According to Dullroy, the ability to network in a co-working space boosts productivity and income. The flipside? "You have to deal with other people's noise and chaos," he concedes.
But people working in conventional offices - particularly open-plan spaces - are no better off in that regard. Besides, many co-working spaces have phone boxes in which occupants can talk without disturbing anyone.
Who shouldn't be using shared workspaces? Obviously, people in businesses that involve a lot of confidential information, such as lawyers and financial advisers. For most others, though, the benefits outweigh any privacy issues, since, as Dullroy points out, "You might meet a new collaborator, discover a pivotal new strategy, or win a new customer by being open with your project instead of protective".
Sharing office space is part of a bigger picture of collaborative economic activity enabled by the internet. Businesses have sprung up that enable individuals to rent private parking (avoiding expensive public garages), temporary private accommodation (avoiding expensive hotel rooms), designer apparel (avoiding the full cost of owning a Diane Von Furstenberg dress or Balenciaga handbag), and so on. These businesses all use space or resources more efficiently, and the economic benefits of a thriving entrepreneurial community are almost priceless.