Shared Office Space a Hit with Entrepreneurs

A few of our incredible Flack Block friends, Rob Stocks of IdeaLEVER, Stephen Abbott and Mike Rowlands of Octopus Strategies, and Lesli Boldt of Boldt Communications share their experience working in a shared office space.

Shared office space a hit with entrepreneurs
In addition to saving money, like-minded business types find they can swap ideas and increase productivity and efficiency
By Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun

Lesli Boldt spent nearly 10 years of her professional life working from home, and hated it.

“The only person I would see during the day was the barista at Max’s Deli where I would get my Americano around 10:30 a.m.,” Boldt, who operates her own media and communications agency in Vancouver, said in a recent interview.

Rob Stocks had a slightly different problem.

The Vancouver-based web entrepreneur had a big office downtown, complete with a fantastic view, but no one to share it with.

“I missed having colleagues,” he said.

Call them the “anti-trendsetters.”

At a time when more and more companies are looking to shrink their real-estate footprint in pricey downtown centres and many employees are pushing for telecommuting options, independent workers such as Boldt and Stocks are stubbornly moving against the tide.

The two have happily coexisted in a shared office space in the downtown core for the past 18 months. Together with three other like-minded business-types, they split the hefty costs of rent, Internet, utilities and even coffee, while reaping the benefits of professional companionship and support.

“When we are having stressful days, I’ve got somebody’s office to go into and even maybe cry a tear or two if I am having a difficult situation,” said Boldt.

It’s that kind of “drive-by chat” you lose out on when working from home, agreed Mike Rowlands, one of the five office partners.

“We’re all in creative businesses, so just being able to park myself on the corner of somebody’s desk and have a quick, impromptu brainstorm is absolutely invaluable,” he said.

The group considers its arrangement a friendlier variation on the commercial “rent-a-desk” packages often marketed to small and startup businesses.

Indeed, part of the reason it works so well is because all the occupants are known to each other, either directly or through a friend-of-a-friend connection.

Stocks, for instance, went to high school with Stephen Abbott, who works for Rowlands in the brand strategy firm Octopus Strategies.

Boldt learned about the setup from Rowlands, who is married to one of her close friends.

The relationships allow for a natural kind of trust to develop among occupants — a critical element to making the shared-space work. An unspoken pact protects them from business piracy and, instead, fosters mutual respect.

Though their businesses are different, they’ve found they share a similar energy and attitude toward how they choose to work and live.

“Most of us even have the same music on our iPhones,” Boldt joked.

Rowlands said the key to getting started in a successful shared office is finding someone who will sign the primary lease.

In this case, he agreed to take on that responsibility through his company.

The other trick is locating a space in a suitable location — one that is large enough to accommodate future sublease partners, if and when needed, while at the same time still affordable, should no one else turn up.

And, in Vancouver’s busy downtown centre, that’s no mean feat. Stocks said there’s a real lack of small-footprint office space that isn’t in older, rundown buildings.

A well-finished space of a similar size (1,020 sq. ft) to their own rents for approximately $4,000 per month.

There is nothing shabby about this group’s location. The office, in a heritage building at the corner of West Hastings and Cambie, is modern and bright, and, critical for its occupants, close to the downtown core.

Boldt and Abbott each occupy a desk by the window, while the others pay a bit more to have their own glassed-in office with a door.

Boldt said she looked at other shared office space options before settling on her current situation.

One space, at Main Street and 17th Avenue, was cheaper by about $100 per month, but “the office space was not near a window [it was in the middle of an office hive], and any meetings downtown would be a 20-minute to 30-minute commute by bus, so paying a small premium was worth it for me,” she said via email.

Other packaged spaces, costing between $750 and $1,000 per month, proved more expensive and offered no office services that she felt she needed.

Perks of the current rented space include access to a spacious boardroom, extra chairs when clients come to visit, a bike locker, kitchen facility, showers and a professional cleaner.

That professional polish to the office is essential, the partners agreed.

“These are the sorts of things that keep the business going purposefully, and keep it out of the home-office image which tends to get personified by pyjamas,” said Abbott.

Indeed, they believe this kind of shared-space model is the future for many businesses as the big agencies scale back on costs and clients increasingly turn to “super-specialists” to get the job done, whatever that job is.

It makes good business sense, said Rowlands.

“We can bill out less [than larger agencies] because we are paying less for floor space. We’re not passing that business expense over to our clients.”

It’s not altogether ideal. All the partners are owners of growing businesses, and they recognize space will become an issue in the future.

Boldt said she’d eventually like to be able to add a few more desks in order to accommodate the various subcontractors with whom she collaborates from time to time. And, some day, she’d like to have an office with a door. But she isn’t in a hurry to shake things up.

“We’ve got a good thing going,” she said.

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