Monday 17 December 2018

'Co-working' might sound too good to be true - and it is, especially if you're an office cynic

Inspirational quotes, partition-less desks, Yoga Mondays - welcome to hell on Earth for the office cynic

There are rarely any plasterboard partitions
in a co-working office
There are rarely any plasterboard partitions in a co-working office

Regina Lavelle

Originating in San Francisco and rapidly exported worldwide, co-working spaces are shared offices inhabited by young people with the kind of jobs they would struggle to explain to their grandparents.

Invariably occupied by freelancers (hello!) and start-ups, these places are rife with infant businesses boasting vice presidents not yet old enough to shave and euphemistic job titles. For example, 'Head of People' actually means HR, a 'Product Evangelist' is a salesman, and I still don't know what a 'Chief of Vibes' does, but you can guarantee it's not nearly as much craic as it sounds. But in the last 15 years, the industry has boomed, with the number of co-workers forecast to increase from 2.3 million currently to 5.1 million in 2022.

Unsurprisingly, given Dublin's status as a tech hub, it's a magnet for such companies. Swing a cat in the capital and it will land in front of a laptop and on top of an Aeron chair, being charged anywhere from €100 to €400 a month for the privilege. Last week, it was announced that WeWork, the behemoth of the industry, was opening a sixth Dublin office at Charlemont Street, with the old Central Bank on Dame Street and a Harcourt Street location to follow. Cork has recently seen the opening of the Republic of Work and Galway, the newly launched PorterShed.

So what is it actually like to work in one of these places? I've co-worked in London, New York and San Francisco, and despite the free coffee and the beautiful 'spaces' (don't call them offices), for the dying breed known as the cynic, they are hell on Earth. Here's why...

The ministry of truth

Co-working spaces love disruption, but hate disaffection - you will have fun. WeWork may have started it with their "Do what you love" messages, but it's gotten out of hand - now every laptop-friendly corner cafe has their own wall-mounted propaganda campaign that sounds like it's straight out of Pinterest's or Instagram's 'Inspirational Quotes'. Every vertical surface has whimsical word art or 3D block letters telling you, "Life is short, build stuff that matters" or "Do something awesome today". A colleague recently complained of being confronted with a "Disrupt everything" exhortation above the urinals.

Living in a bell jar

Like Donald J Trump, I love me a wall - they exist for a reason. Hell, I'll even settle for a good high partition. What I don't appreciate is glass walls. You can't surreptitiously peek at that Asos sale in a glass walled office, you can't take off your shoes, you can't relax when you're constantly on display like some live human exhibit. Freelancus Journico (do not feed).In the bell jar, work becomes performance as much as productivity. Give me a plasterboard wall and the freedom to have chipped toenail polish any day.

Cult, er, I mean community

The communal spaces of co-working offices are a minefield of organised fun. Craft beer tasting, pop-up barbers, town-hall style residents' meetings, movie marathons, Yoga Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Workshop Wednesdays, it never ends. Lured by the promise of free food, the young and unwary are trapped by the feverish bright smiles of the event managers and their minions. An hour and a half later, one small IPA and a vegan tartlet better off, they make their escape after listening to several soliloquies about fourth-quarter user-acquisition strategies. Just a little older, a little wiser, and a little sadder.

The poisoned apples

Sometimes all is in harmony, the sunlight is streaming in at just exactly the right angle to highlight the expertly coiffed beards and glint off the ranks of identical MacBooks. The gentle hum from 50 pairs of AirPods playing deep-cuts balances perfectly with the aroma of the single-origin, two-shot, soy flat whites. The faithful are at worship. Til one, invariably middle-aged, schlub turns up wearing Clarks shoes and carrying a PC and the ripple of revulsion hits like a Mexican Wave of judgment.

Ultimately though, I do not come to praise the old office, but to bury it. As with everything in the brave new world of work, resistance is futile. The relentlessly cheery future is crashing in upon us and you can either swim along or be swept aside...

Irish Independent

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