The way we work

Shared spaces offer a fresh take on traditional office space

The way we work

By Sarah Dobson

I visited a friend lately at his place of work in downtown Toronto. But this time, his place of work was a shared space, where several companies share rented offices and employees can congregate in a communal area when they like. And I was visiting after 5 o’clock, when my workday was done.

It’s one of those co-working models, and this one is up on the 21st floor of a major office tower. So my friend and I helped ourselves to free beer on tap (four selections) in the kitchen area while others around us poured a cup of coffee. Snacks were also on hand, with payment through an honour system.

The lounge area featured comfy, colourful chairs clustered around tables or booths that were perched by windows offering amazing views of the city far below. A couple of retro-style video game machines were also on hand.

A wide wooden staircase swept down from the floor above, with the stairs stretching out to become padded seating when large groups gather for an event. There was actually one happening when we were there, with a few people doing a small presentation on immigrant recruitment in front of a large screen.

We also visited my friend’s office on the other side of the elevators, which is a small space compared to what he’d been used to for decades in working at a large telecom. But before we reached his open-concept office, with glass walls allowing any passersby to see in, we passed a row of retro-style phone booths which could be used by any of the employees on the floor for private conversations.

My slight claustrophobia kicked in when I saw these tight, dark compartments, but the brightly lit offices and communal area made up for it.

Overall, it’s an interesting concept. Presumably employers appreciate the reduced costs of smaller offices, with employees working in tighter quarters. But then employers can also offer the free drink perks and kitchen amenities, and the social aspect of the funky common space, to make up for it.

While it felt a bit like a college campus, with a lot of young people sitting around chatting or working on laptops, there didn’t seem to be a lot of mingling, and my friend admitted he hasn’t really met anyone new there.

Nevertheless, a new report says this is a phase that’s only growing in Canada. Flexible office space is projected to grow by about 300 per cent by the end of 2019 compared to 2014, according to commercial real estate company CBRE Canada. And most of that’s happening in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

“Large companies like WeWork, officially known as We Co., and IWG are leading the charge, catering to demand from entrepreneurs, small businesses and companies looking for flexible leases and millennial-friendly office designs. Office vacancy rates in downtown Toronto fell to a record low 2.3 per cent in the third quarter, the tightest office market in North America,” said a Bloomberg covering the report.

While WeWork has had its challenges, around its governance and profitability, that doesn’t seem to be having an impact in Canada, at least so far.

And I hope that continues. Having worked in both traditional and open-concept offices over my many years of work, it’s nice to see yet another approach.

And for my friend, who’d been relegated to drab cubicles and offices for many years, he is really enjoying the fresh take on a job that has become tried-and-true over the years, and the youthful atmosphere -- plus he likes the free beer.


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