Can coworking work in regional towns?

This article has been republished from blogger Jane Deany’s www.ilovebrokenhill.com blog. Jane has been coworking at Hub Melbourne for the last year and she believes coworking has many benefits. She has a Twitter handle @CoworkingisCool and a related website is on the way. Although not from Broken Hill, Jane’s blog promotes the best of this famous historic city where BHP was born and Pro Hart lived. Jane thinks coworking could be very beneficial in regional locations such as Broken Hill, as she writes in this blog post.

Coworking is on the increase all around the globe. Could it be beneficial in a regional Australian town like Broken Hill I wondered? If you’re not sure what coworking is, check out this Youtube clip below to find out more and why it could ‘work’ for you! Then see my article below the clip for more information.

Okay, so now you’ve got some idea about coworking. I can tell you I’m already doing it and I think it’s really cool, but don’t just take my word for it.

I did some research for another publication about coworking in regional areas such as Broken Hill and in the process I spoke to a few people in the know.

Note

As the coworking topic is bigger than just being about Broken Hill, this “coworking could increase employment opportunities in Broken Hill” article may appear on other sites related to coworking. Depending on where you come across this article, the original article appeared on the www.ilovebrokenhill.com blog on 8 October 2013 and you can link back to the original articlehere – “coworking could increase employment opportunities in Broken Hill“.

Coworking
Here’s what I found out about the worldwide coworking trend, which according to wikipedia kicked off around 2005 in San Francisco.

Historic Broken Hill Trades Hall building.
Business was done differently in the past and trade unions
played a very big role in the world of work especially in Broken Hill.

“A growing trend has seen collaboration focused coworking spaces popping up around the globe to meet an ever-increasing demand worldwide. Sustainability, and sharing resources and knowledge are key factors driving this new way of doing business. Here in my hometown Melbourne I co-work part-time at Hub Melbourne, a highly regarded, privately owned, coworking space in the heart of the city, now in its third year of operation. In Newcastle and Wollongong in NSW, coworking spaces are also being created to meet demand.

It should be high-lighted that coworking spaces are not serviced offices, executive suites or business incubators. Co-workers typically work in a shared office space, whilst they work on their own businesses or projects, often as solo operators or in partnerships, and sometimes as part of a small business. A growing number of big corporates have found that sending teams to a coworking space created opportunities to connect and collaborate with budding entrepreneurs and start-ups, often facilitating seed-funding and partnership opportunities.
Could the concept work in Broken Hill? That was something I spoke to Jan Stewart about whilst I co-worked at the Hub last week.Jan is the Hub Australia ‘Culture Host’ which means she assists withHub‘s three Australian offices including the new Sydney and Adelaide spaces. I asked Jan to explain the reasons for the growing popularity of coworking spaces? She said that there is a “shift towards the sharing economy and the way we do business”.  People and organisations “have become more aware of the benefits of sharing resources and the importance of sustainability”. A greater emphasis on collaboration is also a growing trend. Jan highlighted the popularity of sharing services, citing other sharing examples such as accommodation service “airbnb” and car share schemes such as “Flexicar”.

Another key factor is “the internet which makes it easier to share what we have”. With the exponential use of portable devices, gone are the days of being tied to a single PC and a dedicated desk.

A membership of a coworking space usually means you can use the space on a part or full-time basis depending upon the membership level. Part time members usually sit wherever there’s a free desk. Members can have permanent desks if they require, and often use the space to enjoy the opportunity to network and meet new people, which in traditional office spaces wouldn’t often occur. The open-plan environment and, in the case of the Hub, the numerous professional development and social events for members and guests help to increase the possibility of making useful and often serendipitous connections.
Jan Stewart of Hub Australia sitting at the Space Host desk.
In the background is some of the coworking space at Hub Melbourne

Coworking is popular among freelancers and telecommuters who may find working from home to be very isolating. From a regional point of view where remote locations certainly create isolation, the opportunity to co-work could not only offer a remedy for loneliness, but could also bring the benefits of sharing new ideas.

When I discussed the coworking concept with regional Enterprise Development Centre representatives in the past, one issue that came up was “a fear of sharing ideas in case someone pinches them”. It’s a natural fear, and some caution is needed when sharing ideas, however idea theft is preventable if precautions are taken. Often, when two or more people become involved in developing something, even better solutions can arise – the “two heads are better than one” principle can weigh in in a positive way.
I also spoke last week with a coworking business manager from the Victorian regional city of Warragul, Teresa Mitchell (who I met through the Hub). We spoke about her Coworx organisation which is in its first year of operation.  She noted that one issue is to get people to feel comfortable working “without walls”.
An idea being discussed is to create a mobile coworking space for a region, which, like a mobile library, could travel to different locations on a regular basis, giving locals the chance to co-work and share ideas.
 
Hub Melbourne in Donkey Wheel House – Bourke Street
coworking space, image from www.bradkrauskopf.com

One of the differences between a city versus regional coworking space is the limited supply of co-workers.  For a business offering a coworking space, part of the revenue comes from memberships.  Another important source of income comes from the hire of meeting rooms, so the availability of permanent meeting spaces would also be recommended for an organisation looking to set up a coworking space.  This could be a negative aspect of a mobile space, but availability of rooms for hire through affiliates could provide the solution.

I also spoke to Brad KrauskopfHub Australia CEO and founder, earlier in the year about regional  coworking spaces and he felt they were certainly on the horizon, but the idea would take a little longer to take off than in cities.  He also indicated that a public-private partnership model would more likely succeed in a regional location as the lower numbers of potential members mean that it could be difficult to be sustainable as a purely private venture.
 
Hub Melbourne in Donkey Wheel House – Bourke Street
coworking space, image from www.bradkrauskopf.com

I asked Jan what members loved about coworking at the Huband she explained “Hub‘s mixed bag lunches where members bring food to share each Thursday and the ‘wine down’ drinks each Friday at 5pm.”

Members also valued “the presence of a ‘Space Host’ who provided the opportunity for potential fruitful connections.  The sense of community and of being supported” were also appreciated.

(I suspect the funky range of seating options at the Hub is another factor in what appeals to members. There’s also a very popular hammock option!)

Coworking could be of great value to people in regionallocations such as Broken Hill.  Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before the idea really takes off.”

If you have a positive coworking story I’d love to hear about it on Twitter: @CoworkingisCool


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