Working together to revolutionise the Irish office
With the rise in flexible working, freelancers and entrepreneurs are being drawn to the fluidity of desks for rent in shared spaces. With co-working now expanding to the suburbs and even hotels getting in on the act, Tanya Sweeney looks at the changing nature of our workspaces
The Irish office as we know it, with its fluorescent lighting, water-cooler gossip and low-level melancholia, is an endangered species. A growing number of entrepreneurs, creatives and digital dynamos are sidestepping the headache of overheads, and by extension the drone of workplace anxiety, with an entirely new working arrangement. Already an established model in the States, co-working is gaining traction in Ireland, and edging towards the suburbs to enable workers to ditch the dreaded commute.
Regus, one of the world's biggest providers of shared office space, is planning to open their latest site in the Dublin suburbs; specifically, in The Gables in Foxrock. It'll be the company's 13th space in the country.
"The Gables is our first move into the community and it is part of our mission to provide a workspace solution to anyone in Ireland who needs it," Regus's Gearoid Collins says. "Existing and future trends indicate a high demand for flexible working which is why we are extending our network to not only cities but communities, to enable people and businesses to work when they want, where they want and how they want. Mobile working is the future."
The term 'hot desking' - where workers share a communal workspace on a more ad-hoc basis - is thought to be derived from the naval practice of 'hot racking', where sailors on different shifts share the same bunks. It promises the best of both worlds; a base with minimal financial blowback, without the weight of workaday politics.
Instances in which entrepreneurs and professionals work from their digital office - a laptop and phone - are becoming less the exception and more the rule. In Australia, the government hopes to have 12pc of employees working remotely by 2020, while research shows that 74pc of businesses hope to employ more freelancers in the near future. Last year, research by Magnet Networks showed that over half (58pc) of 540 business surveyed said they have introduced a cloud system for either their staff, their clients or for both, enabling them to work remotely.
Taking its lead from cities like London, Berlin and New York, cities outside Dublin are warming to the idea of dedicated spaces for workers. The Galway Technology Centre offers desk space for as little as €20 a day, while Level One hires desks for spells as short as an hour (for €15 an hour). In Cork, eCentres offers office facilities for remote workers.
"Some people downsized their business in the last few years, but don't want to work from home as they're distracted too easily," says eCentres coordinator Judy Crowley. "A set-up like this means that they can look professional to clients, especially if they live in a rural area."
In Dublin, the Guinness Enterprise Centre and the Digital Hub offer flexible terms and rates for small business and sole traders. There are a growing number of spaces, too, that aim to be more than just a cluster of desks and phone sockets; rather, a community for like-minded types. Among them are the Fumbally Exchange on Dame Lane, South Studios on New Row South and, until recently, Block T in Smithfield. They not only offer desk space, but a hub where workers can cross-pollinate and share their skills.
Jennifer O'Dwyer, founder of JOD Clothing, was part of the Block T hot-desking hive in Smithfield until its closure last January (they have downsized to 20 studios and moved to Basin View in Dublin 8).
"Three weeks after I put my full-time focus on JOD, it became pretty clear I needed to get out of the house," she recalls. "At Block T, the feeling was completely different to a traditional office environment; there was a real 'we're in this together' attitude. Freelancing is horrifying, but being there took the mystery out of it. And a regular office would only kill creativity."
When she joined, Block T's residents gave O'Dwyer advice on taxation and setting up a limited company, and their advice then moved beyond the practical.
"The best thing you can do is surround yourself with like-minded people who will give honest feedback on what you're working on," she says. "I used to wear my samples around the office and get people to have a look at it, and get a sense of pricing from them. It's one thing being creative, but we all know that it's about how to turn it into your living."
In September 2015, Sinéad Geraghty and John White founded FlexHuddle, a 300sq m workspace, in Dublin's Rathmines. For €299 per desk per month, workers can access a 30-desk workspace with meeting rooms, outside area, chill-out space, social zone and a satellite kitchen.
"The cost of renting an office was a bit prohibitive, and I also wanted something that was more like a community," says Geraghty. "I thought, 'I'll see if other people are interested in getting together to rent somewhere' and it grew from there."
Currently, Geraghty - who works in digital marketing and start-up development - shares with business consultants, translators, remote workers for Moroccan/US companies, marketeers and analytics workers. "We're hoping to create a digital agency of co-workers," she explains. "It allows other companies to access brilliant talent but don't have to pay for the maintenance of a digital agency."
It's precisely this pooling of energies and resources that makes co-working the right option for many.
"Everyone is of benefit to each other here," says Geraghty.
"If you work from home, or in a library or coffee shop, it's not a structured environment. Here, it's a professional workspace where everyone is motivated in the work they do. It's really inspiring to see everyone getting down to it."
Asked how the current crop of Irish developments compare to those in London and New York, Geraghty says: "Ireland is very much in its infancy. I've seen ones in London that are much more commercial and don't foster the same sense of collaboration. Then again, I've seen co-working spaces with 300 people in it and there's a great sense of community. That's where we want to be in the future."
Hotels have also noticed the demand for co-working spaces, too. The Lockeliving.com Aparthotel group, already established in London, have bought the former Zanzibar hotel on Dublin's quays as part of a €45m investment. Plans are afoot to make the site a hub for the local community; workers included.
On Dublin's Harcourt Street, the Dean Hotel provides a popular hot-desking service for guests and non-guests. Stylistically, the hotel hits similar tonal notes to the likes of London's Ace Hotel and New York's Wythe Hotel. More than just a hotel, it's a hangout and a de facto workspace.
Emily Ross works as MD for a communications company and works out of the Dean at least one day a week.
"The Dean has taken the workspace to a whole new level for me," she notes. "If you do what you love it's not about work and off time, you want to do it in spaces that are inspirational and creative."
Speaking about the fluidity of the new Irish workspace, she adds: "I think the regular 9-5 routine might be what the majority of people think of when they think of a job, but how many of your friends are working from their basement or bedroom, or waitressing by day and gigging by night?"
Elsewhere, photographer/actor Ste Murray sublets a desk in a shared office at South Studios, Dublin.
"The dream is to one day have my own space, but as a step-up from home, the desk is perfect," he notes. "On a typical day, I could be at an audition in the morning, back to the desk to edit for lunchtime, out again to a photo-shoot in the afternoon and then on stage that night in a play. Having a desk I can drop into affords me this flexibility to structure my day.
"For someone like me, who's looking to build a business bit by bit, the desk acts as a stepping stone to my own larger space," he adds. "It also informs a way of working, learning from the freelancers and small businesses and how they approach their projects."
With the popularity of co-working and hot-desking options set to rise, the trend, contends Ross, is indicative of a new sense of vitality and industriousness in the country at large.
"If you're doing a job you're passionate about, you have far less time to fall into things like job dissatisfaction," she muses. "So many people have lost everything in recent times and have finally decided to follow their dreams. They're too broke to stress about the water-cooler stuff."